San Bernardino City Bankruptcy is please to bring you the fifth in our series of interviews with candidates for Mayor of San Bernardino in the November 2013.
Today’s online interview is with Wendy McCammack, the City Council current representative for San Bernardino’s 7th Ward and one of eleven candidates for Mayor.
Remember – the San Bernardino Police Officers Association is hosting a Mayoral Candidates Forum the evening of Saturday, September 14th. If you are interested in attending, please reserve your seats by clicking this link.
Councilwoman McCammack, thank you for your time today.
You were first elected to to the San Bernardino City Council in 2000, then re-elected in, 2003, 2007 and 2011. During that time what were some of your major concerns about how the City was managing its finances?
I have always thought of the decisions I have made, albeit as only one vote on the City Council, as a business owner who should make decisions that will provide long term financial stability.
I have consistently asked my colleagues to stick to a fiscally conservative plan, making decisions that will be smart in the long run.
Decisions that I felt were not smart included the $192,000,000 replacement bus line, hundreds of millions wasted on an airport to no where, $10,000,000 spent to help a for-profit theater business get in business and stay in business, wasted money on Operation Phoenix, and more wasteful spending coddling parolees, homeless and panhandlers. All of these things, yet only a partial list, were bad decisions and I find them insulting to the taxpayers.
What steps did you attempt to take to correct these problems that would eventually lead to the City of San Bernardino declaring bankruptcy?
Again, as one vote who seemed to be in the minority of the 7 council votes, I have consistently asked the Mayor and City Manager (of the day) to remove non-essentials from the budget. I did not have the majority of support on the council for such requests that were repeated year after year.
I consistently asked for reports that would have shown that restricted funds were in the red year after year, but those requests went unanswered or I was told “we cannot create the report for which you are asking.”
Even when the City Manager warned of large deficits in a five year projection, the Mayor continued to put a “balanced” budget before the Council members. Those two actions contradict each other, as I remarked year after year.
Last summer when the City suddenly declared bankrupty, how did you vote on this action and why?
I voted “YES” for the fiscal emergency and to file for Federal Bankruptcy protection so that we could continue to make payroll covering paychecks for desperately needed public safety and other essential service personnel.
The City’s cash flow was in a desperate situation thanks to runaway spending by the Mayor and a majority of Councilmembers. I knew that if the City was allowed to reorganize its debts, it could recover by finally forcing the administration to remove the non-essentials from the budget.
I saw the opportunity to actually rebuild a budget and our fiscal condition better than before if we were to file for that opportunity to restructure our debt. I see that happening now, from a more over-arching perspective, although we must be very careful of every dime we spend.
What were your top priorities as a Councilmember prior to bankruptcy?
Everything that makes residents feel like they are willing to invest here in residential and/or business properties. Those investors bring jobs that allow people to earn a living providing for their families.
The list of priorities also included financial stability, providing enough public safety officers to keep our community safe from parolees, homeless, panhandlers and gang activity, removal of blighted low-income housing, repairing and maintaining streets, sidewalks and street light infrastructure, and maintaining a quality City workforce, accountable to the residents of San Bernardino.
How has the bankruptcy affected your pursuit of those civic goals?
The Bankruptcy filing has not affected my family’s pursuit of staying engaged in our community, whether as an elected official or otherwise. Our property values are similar to those of many of our neighbors in town; what affects my family affects every family.
The bankruptcy is actually an opportunity to steer clear of the City dissolving which means we can come back stronger than before, as long as we stay fiscally conservative while still providing essential city services in the proper amount to our residents.
After San Bernardino exits bankruptcy, what policies need to be changed or implemented to ensure that a financial crisis like this does not happen to our City again?
Non-essential projects must be stopped until we are long out of bankruptcy and are on firm fiscal ground. We must set aside reserve funds for emergencies, employee payouts and infrastructure savings accounts so that we are ahead of the maintenance curve instead of 15 years behind it.
City officials MUST know exactly what is in each and every fund so that any unauthorized borrowing can be monitored more closely and stopped more quickly. As a group we must pay attention to employee-suggested cost savings opportunities while rebuilding this City’s reserve funds.
In 2005, we had healthy reserves while we were redeveloping at a smart pace, paying as we go for the most part. Those reserves dwindled once Mayor Morris took office.
My opinion is that any borrowing or investing on behalf of the taxpayer must forecast a reasonable time frame for a return of their investment. If it does not, City officials must have a clear understanding of exactly what public purpose such borrowing or investing creates and obtain the voters’ approval for such expensive large scale projects.
In addition to the City’s financial problems, San Bernardino has an extremely high number of jobless residents. What do you believe the City should be doing to help residents find employment and bring jobs to San Bernardino?
Without a strenuous concerted effort in job creation there is not going to be enough residents with disposable income to support the revenues needed to provide essential city services to a community consisting of over 50percent on some type of fixed socially-assisted income, who also live in rental housing.
There must be no more than 25percent of any community, in order to fiscally survive, on social assistance and/or in rental housing. Job creation cannot happen through government efforts alone, but government should be facilitating industrial growth so jobs become more plentiful.
Again, government needs to get out of the way of properly monitored free enterprise. Inexpensive land, excellent water supply and proximity to freeways are very attractive features to those industries looking to grow and invest and reasonable owner occupied properties make it attractive for investors to come.
But without a REAL reduction in crime, investors will always be slower to come here. Crime is a disincentive to investment and I think everyone agrees with that.
Unfortunately both the San Bernardino Fire and Police Departments have been hit hard with cuts and loss of staffing. What types of public safety complaints are you hearing from you constituents?
Burglaries, gang activity, over 2000 parolees living in San Bernardino (and growing due to AB109), panhandlers, homeless and too much low income housing, which many feel are magnets for eventual out-of-control crime issues, are the complaints I hear the most.
People feel that it takes far too many hours to respond to burglaries or non-injury traffic accidents and that there are not enough detectives and evidence gatherers to solve the crimes that do occur.
People have asked for the bike cops and special crime prevention details to return to our department, as they feel those units were essential to thwarting crime. There are simply not enough patrol units to properly patrol a city with high levels of poverty and rental housing.
What do you think the City of San Bernardino should be doing to improve safety for its residents and families?
First and foremost, hire as many public safety officers as is financially possible. As an added bonus, officer safety substantially increases with larger numbers of officers on patrol.
Reduce the amount of blighted low-income multi-family slumlord-run housing, by strictly enforcing city codes, which ultimately reduces public safety calls for service and raises property values.
Stop bad behavior in neighborhood that substantially reduces the quality of life many homeowners experience. More officers will translate to less crime in each of those neighborhoods because there will be more officers to respond to those quality of life issues.
Those actions eventually raise raise property values with eventually raises the necessary revenues to increase officers on patrol which eventually reduces crime.
Rental housing ordinances need to be stricter so that absentee landlords cannot force property values down around them because of their “take the rent and run” behavior.
Staying with the issue of public safety, after the election of Pat Morris as Mayor the voters approved a 10 year tax by passing Measure Z. Many residents and employees are questioning whether Measure Z funds are being used as demanded by the voters when they also approved Measure YY, directing the Mayor and City Council to use this tax revenue to enhance public safety. Do you believe these funds are being used in accordance with their intent?
The revenue collected, originally passed by the voters through a quarter-cent sales tax increase known as Measure Z, goes directly to the general fund and I believe has supplanted monies that used to be budgeted for police department staffing.
Per the Charter, an annual budget is presented by the Mayor, through the City Manager, to the City Council who then votes that budget up or down. Those of us who have asked to alter any given budget have been accused of micro-managing and so our suggestions of how to better use that Measure Z money have gone on deaf ears.
You and other elected officials in the city have been targeted for recall. Other than the exorbitant cost of Special Elections the City can not afford, why should voters oppose your recall and keep you in office?
My vote as a Councilmember is only one of 7 votes and in many cases where precious taxpayer resources were flagrantly wasted I asked the questions and raised issues that were unpopular, considered micro-managing or obstructionistic.
I have brought common sense and a voice of reason to the Council and had that common sense been heeded, I would probably not be a target of a recall.
However, I do believe that this recall is about silencing those who have been most vocal about almost eight years of wasteful spending. I believe this recall is a vendetta waged so that some folks closely connected to the Mayor and his cronies can gain control of a Council majority who will “go along just to get along”.
Councilmembers like me, who refuse to be silenced by a threat of recall, will continue to do what we feel is right for the taxpayer and not the “old guard”. I will always speak up based on information I have been presented and I will always defend the taxpayers before cronyism.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
I appreciate the SPBPOA’s offer to place my record and opinions before the voters in this forum. I appreciate those who have taken the time to read this information and I hope have come away with a truer understanding of the issues based on the candidate’s opinion and not the opinions of those “who buy ink by the barrel.”
The questions you posed are good ones and I hope my answers gave the readers a better understanding of what Wendy McCammack truly believes in and has been a championing during her entire tenure as a Councilmember.
I am honored to be of service. For more information, voters may contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of Interview