San Bernardino City Bankruptcy is pleased to bring you this interview with Mayoral Candidate Henry Nickel.
This is our sixth interview with individuals vying to be San Bernardino’s next mayor. To read the interviews, please visit our Mayor’s Race page.
And don’t forget! The San Bernardino Police Officers Association is hosting a Mayoral Candidate Forum on Saturday, September 14th at Cal State San Bernardino.
For more information or to reserve seats at this important civic event, please click here.
And now our interview with mayoral candidate, Henry Nickel.
Mr. Nickel thank you for taking the time to participate in this online interview.
What do you believe the top priorities of the City of San Bernardino should be?
First we must restore law and order.
The number one job of government is to provide public safety, everything else is secondary. Private sector economic development will come if city hall remains focused on securing persons and property.
For decades San Bernardino served as a dumping ground for Southern California’s destitute and criminals. With AB 109’s early release of convicted felons, we face a new tidal wave of crime throughout the city. We cannot attract new businesses or residents if we remain a magnet for criminals.
Our police must be supported with the personnel, equipment and policies necessary to do their job. It is a tough job that deserves our respect. Our police in turn deserve a mayor and council that will not discourage law enforcement but work with officers who understand the nature of the threats we confront.
We also need to increase code enforcement, holding negligent owners accountable for blighted properties and the law enforcement costs associated with vast inventories of low income housing.
Second we need to begin an honest evaluation of our city’s financial condition, both how we got here and how we recover.
We can no longer shy away from facts for fear of political retaliation. As our city is now officially bankrupt all options must be on the table and all stakeholders seated around it.
Much is said about the rapidly rising level of pension debt over the last decade. Much is said about the tremendous amount of money poured into our local elections by public employee special interests.
In response, some believe the solution is to contract city police and fire services to San Bernardino County.
Yet, we cannot be tempted by promises of an easy fix. Furthermore, we must be careful when drawing comparisons to other cities. San Bernardino is unique in both its history and as the seat of county government. Decades of poorly conceived policies contributed to a steady influx of low income and criminal elements.
We cannot ignore where we are or how we got here. I share the concerns of many regarding a correlation between public employee political influence in city elections and rapidly escalating levels of debt.
However, I am not convinced contracting is the solution, particularly as relates to our police department. As of the date of this writing I have yet to receive an invitation from representatives of the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters PAC.
I have reviewed many years’ worth of campaign records disclosing payments to consultants shared with former and present candidates and elected officials. I have researched subsequent council actions and historic financial projections related to compensation agreements. I have many questions for our fire and welcome the public to share their own as well.
Collectively we deserve answers and I welcome fire’s response. As of now I am unable to justify sustaining fire’s present compensation given potential cost savings associated with contracting to the county. It is simply irresponsible to saddle future generations with debt we cannot pay for.
Collectively we made promises we must keep, but we cannot continue business as usual indefinitely. We must be honest with ourselves and honest with each other. We all share an absolute obligation to negotiate as honest brokers, attuned to fiscal realities and good public policy rather than political opportunism.
Third, we must move forward as a city with the end goal in mind.
My family arrived in San Bernardino more than a century ago. Like so many they arrived with ambition, willingness to work and a spirit of sacrifice to build a better life and promising future. We now stand on their shoulders and must follow their example.
The decisions we make today influence future generations we will never know. We owe it as much to those who will carry on a century from now as we owe to those who sacrificed for us a century ago.
In response, we as residents must take a more active role in leading our community rather than rely upon politicians and bureaucrats to do the job for us. This requires good faith negotiation and possibly revisions to correct flaws within our city’s charter.
We must have a firm but fair minded mayor and council free from special interest coercion, threats of retaliation or the temptation of political payoffs. Unfortunately, reelection and prospects for higher office tend to dominate the minds of politicians.
That is why I have stated my intention to serve only one term as mayor. Those in office over the next two to four years must not concern themselves with how their decisions may help or hurt re-election. Rather, they must be focused on negotiating the terms of sustainable financial recovery and responsible public policy.
Moreover, I support the creation of oversight and advisory committees nominated by residents rather than politicians to monitor and scrutinize our recovery plan. Only by parting from the troublesome behavior of the past will we create a solid foundation for the future.
If you are elected mayor, the City of San Bernardino will exit bankruptcy during your term in office. What policies need to be changed or implemented to ensure that a financial crisis like this does not happen to our City again?
We need to evaluate possible changes to the charter, specifically addressing matters of governance.
Currently we elect a council based solely upon a ward system. Only the mayor is elected at large. As it is the council that votes, this encourages parochial politics. It is not uncommon to hear council members tout projects they have brought to their ward.
This zero sum approach to city government creates competition among council members for limited resources. Were the council to include among its ranks a number of at-large members, the common interests of the city could be better served.
Furthermore, we need to evaluate the value of making the positions of City Attorney and City Clerk professional appointed positions rather than politicized offices. These professionals cannot conceivably perform professional duties while concerning themselves with political considerations and reelection.
These positions must remain true to the professional function and government they serve. While we may like the person in office today, help us all should someone else be elected with a far different perspective within the ebb and flow of politics.
We need to evaluate advisory and oversight committees nominated by residents rather than politicians.
Almost twenty years ago Freddie Spellacy proposed the creation of Neighborhood Cluster Associations throughout the city. We need to build upon this concept and Mrs. Spellacy’s legacy of community engagement and service.
By including within city governance a formal oversight function by locally nominated residents we improve transparency and accountability among our elected representatives and public employees.
This also encourages new generations to seek opportunities to lead our community while gaining the experience needed to govern our city in the future. I understand this brings new challenges and welcome an immediate robust dialogue on the structure and function of such an entity.
Anyone wishing to share their ideas or concerns can contact me now. This is something we as a community can accomplish regardless of the election outcome.
We need to improve transparency as relates to political influence within city hall.
Having experience in both federal and state elections, I have serious concerns about the lack of transparency and contribution limits within our city elections. While publication and contribution limits are mandated within state and federal election law, this does not hold true in San Bernardino’s city elections.
I strongly believe all political contributions, whether monetary contributions to candidates or PAC independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates, must be readily accessible public information.
While all candidates and PACs must submit campaign statements to the City Clerk, this information is published online in limited form and difficult to interpret. PAC information relating to city elections is not published online at all.
Only by reviewing years’ worth of records in person at city hall does one discern trends, interrelationships and behavior. The County of San Bernardino has already shown leadership in this regard. Given the mischief within city politics, the public would be well served to know who, how and in what amount special interests influence city hall.
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?
Create a safe environment to encourage investment.
The function of government is to secure life and property. When criminals and gangs overrun our city, customers leave, businesses close, investment looks elsewhere and jobs disappear.
Without commitment to law enforcement good residents move away, vacancies increase and strong communities evaporate. Consequently, we now find ourselves in a death spiral of bankruptcy, urban decay, unemployment and despair.
Due to dysfunctional local government, our city suffers from crime and blight. This discourages the reemergence of a vibrant prosperous downtown. As the seat of the largest county in the United States, thousands of well paid city, county, state and federal workers commute into our city daily.
Thousands of university students attend classes throughout the year within our city limits. However, they spend their money elsewhere. Each day our city fails to capture the tremendous wealth traveling in and out of San Bernardino.
We cannot expect well paid professionals or energetic youth to spend money in a city where they justifiably fear harassment, vandalism and assault.
Thus, strengthening public safety must be the first step in any strategy to reverse our city’s economic death spiral. By stepping up our commitment to law enforcement we will earn confidence within the investment community.
We must no longer tolerate those who seek to violate the law, engage in criminal activity and contribute to blight. Once city hall focuses on doing its job of prosecuting the law and enforcing existing codes, private sector jobs and investment will return.
Improve service delivery.
As we embark upon the second decade of the 21st century we must adopt the best practices of the digital age. However, city employees work for a city government mired in decades of dysfunction.
The politically charged nature of city hall creates an environment of anxiety and frustration among the ranks and file. As a result we inherit a legacy of demoralized public servants. We must now reignite a disengaged cubicle culture by rewarding innovation, enthusiasm and productivity within city departments.
City employees must be given the tools and incentives to innovate and improve service delivery. We must embrace the efficiencies of technology and transition away from labor intensive bureaucratic practices and to less labor intensive paperless administration. This includes transitioning more services online.
One should not have to stand in line for hours, navigate multiple floors of offices and cubicles and wait weeks or longer to obtain necessary approvals. With a university located within miles of city hall we have a tremendous pool of enthusiastic potential employees to pull from.
By creating a culture of innovation and superior service we can attract recent graduates anxious to land their first job with the skills necessary to bring our administration into the 21st century.
Eliminate red tape.
It is not the function of government to create jobs, but rather to provide regulatory efficiency and consistency conducive to investment, economic development and job growth.
While streamlining service delivery we must address administrative inefficiencies and red tape within city departments by eliminating bureaucratic obstruction. Those who bring jobs and opportunity to our region must not fear unequal treatment or a free pass simply based on political connections.
We must not play favorites with business or perpetuate a culture of cronyism.
Responsive government encourages the growth of markets, free enterprise and wealth creation. Within city departments we must to establish clear metrics to measure productivity. We must hold departmental management accountable for performance while encouraging excellence.
This requires an engaged and dedicated mayor, willing to meet, listen and learn from rank and file employees as well as upper management. By doing our job well, city administration will serve job creation most effectively by creating a welcoming environment for business, new investment and ultimately private sector employment required to sustain our city.
Public safety is also a major concern in San Bernardino. 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 the voters?
We are a community fed up with crime and blight.
San Bernardino, once a thriving commercial and agricultural center deteriorated into a poster child of failed urban renewal. Today our once vibrant corridors reflect the steady decay of economic decline.
Good businesses and residents began leaving decades ago, while our city government festered within a polarized logjam of political grandstanding, opportunism and petty infighting.
Those of us who remain optimistic about our ability to pull through find ourselves subject to increasing rates of crime, crumbling infrastructure and rapidly increasing municipal debt.
Voters who have invested in their community, businesses and homes are ready for change. Our police are essential to reversing the trend of decay. Fire is less a concern so long as code enforcement prosecutes negligent property owners.
In terms of emergency response there appears less concern when compared to the apparent high cost to maintain our fire department. Many believe the city could save a significant amount of money both now and into the future by contracting out fire.
Either way, voters deserve an honest assessment of both the costs and benefits to such alternatives as we collectively weigh the propriety of cutting services.
What do you think the City of San Bernardino should be doing to improve safety for its residents and families?
We must invest the Measure Z dollars according to the intent of the measure and advisory Measure YY. We cannot turn around the dismal financial condition of our city until we restore law and order.
With the early release of convicted felons under AB 109 we face a tidal wave of crime. This will require increased vigilance and capabilities on the part of our law enforcement community.
Moreover, given these circumstances I support and encourage gun safety education for our youth increasingly exposed to gun violence and firearms training for responsible members of our community wishing to exercise their right to bear arms and self defense.
Staying with the issue of public safety, in 2006 the voters approved a 10 year tax by passing Measure Z. Many residents and city 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 the voters intent?
Actually the tax was approved for 15 years by we the voters. It unequivocally states the purpose was and remains:
“To fund more police officers, anti-gang and anti-crime operations, and other urgent general fund programs…”
Measure YY was an advisory measure stating the funds could:
“…be used only to fund more police officers and support personnel, and to fund anti-gang and anti-crime operations, including drug resistance education and supervised after-school youth activities.”
However, Measure Z funds remain veiled in political intrigue.
The funds must be transparently accounted for. This includes regular independent audits by certified public accountants to verify what has been received, what has been spent and whether expenditures comply with the intent of the measure.
Let there be no doubt, these funds are intended for law enforcement not the pet programs of politicians. The Citizens Oversight Committee must be composed of those committed to the spirit of the measure and empowered with the authority to independently scrutinize uses of the Measure’s funds.
While I believe the use of the funds to date to be suspect, the first step is to insist upon a proper accounting and shine a bright light on the management of the funds to date and enact reform as appropriate.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
It is arrogant to believe one has all the answers. Good leadership requires a willingness to listen, to learn and to carefully consider legitimate arguments related to good public policy.
I welcome engagement from the entire community and ask all those who wish to weigh in on these ideas or provide their own. It is only when leaders engage the community that local government functions as it should.
We face difficult years ahead. We have a duty to each other to remain honest and committed to building a future we can proudly pass on to those who follow.
I can be reached anytime by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, through my website www.demandaccountability.com or by phone at (909) 733-6208