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Irresponsible Governance and Bad Choices in San Bernardino

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On July 12, posted an editorial about the city of San Bernardino's recent decision to enter bankruptcy proceedings. The editorial called the decision the result of "irresponsible governance" and years of deficit spending. It stated that, "By the admission of the city’s top staff and hired consultants, the storm that has brought San Bernardino into bankruptcy didn’t blow-in overnight, it brewed and built slowly over two decades. Then, in a single night’s agenda, with less than an hour of council discussion, they made their decision – bankruptcy ... This begs the question: Where did the ‘leadership,’ ‘governance,’ or responsibility run to?"

The editorial continued with the comment that San Bernardino ignored chance after chance to reform and improve. They put themselves in a position where bankruptcy was the first and only option with poor dedision. The city faced years of deficit spending, but instead of addressing the issue, it covered it up, selling assets, borrowing from city funds, borrowing from banks and bondholders, using one year’s surplus (now discovered to have been imaginary) to cover the following year’s deficit, and raiding its reserves. The city council members never proposed long-term, lasting solutions.

The editorial commented that "if San Bernardino had seen the bankruptcy writing on the wall, they should have begun this process no earlier than four months ago. They should have looked forward and had the courage to say that they were in trouble – real trouble."

"Four months ago, they should have begun a conversation with the public. As little as three months ago, they should have looked to the 60- or 90-day AB 506 process and began working with their creditors. While still unproven, perhaps it could have staved-off bankruptcy. It certainly would have helped them prepare for it."

The editorial ended with the opinion that "... San Bernardino did this wrong. And they did it wrong enough that it will be a stain upon those of us who believe in and work with local governments. This decision by that council will be a plague on all of our houses."

July 16 update, also posted on

Criminal Investigation into San Bernardino City Government Launched

At last Tuesday's city council meeting that resulted in a vote for bankruptcy, the city attorney alluded to possible questionable activities in the city’s budget history. Now, the Sheriff’s office has confirmed that they are investigating the city government.

The department released few details of the actual investigation, but did confirm that the investigation is currently underway. What the investigation is search for and which aspects of the city government are being targeted wasn’t specified. However, the release did state that the investigation was launched several months ago.

The department issued a release after being apparently overrun with requests from media outlets across the country.

The city has be subject to various investigations in the last few years, including allegations that city officials had rigged bids in the Public Works department. However, those investigations never led to charges.

From the Riverside Press Enterprise:

Authorities have announced an ongoing criminal investigation into San Bernardino city government, but Sheriff Rod Hoops said he believes it is unrelated to allegations made by the city attorney in the wake of the city’s bankruptcy decision about falsified financial documents.

A sheriff’s news release issued Thursday evening, July 12, stated: "Several months ago at the request of San Bernardino City officials, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, along with the San Bernardino Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office, began an investigation related to allegations of possible criminal activity within departments of the San Bernardino city government. is a local government news site dedicated to providing a statewide perspective on California’s cities, counties and special districts. With a team of writers positioned up and down the state, provides the most relevant headlines and commentary from throughout the 481 cities, 58 counties and thousands of special districts. Most importantly, seeks to provide the tools for local government employees to succeed – including information on the best practices around the state and inventive governance procedures and trends. The site also offers access to staff reports and a jobs board.

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