Oct. 21--SAN BERNARDINO -- A controversial move toward potentially outsourcing the city's fire protection services that previously failed by one vote will be reconsidered today, when the City Council has its first meeting since the resignation of opponent Chas Kelley.
If the remaining members of the council vote the same way they did Oct. 7, when the item was previously considered, the vote will be 3-3. The City Charter then gives the tie-breaking vote to Mayor Pat Morris, who devoted much of his Oct. 8 State of the City address to the importance of contracting out for services including fire protection.
The absence of Councilman Robert Jenkins, who was charged with 30 felony and misdemeanor counts on Thursday and hasn't returned calls since, would make the vote 3-2 in favor of requesting proposals from the San Bernardino County Fire Department and Cal Fire.
Morris said those proposals would likely take months to prepare, and time is of the essence if -- as he believes -- accepting one of them would keep the city just as safe while saving millions of dollars a year.
"This is a search for information, and that makes ultimate sense," Morris said. "By the time we get information back on the proposals, whether it's for fire services or park services or custodial services, we'll probably have a new council at the table. And that's an opportunity for the new council, whoever they might be, to look straight in the face of this critically important information instead of what we've had so far, which is a lot of positioning based on emotion and perceived loyalties."
A new mayor and as many as six new council members will take office in March because of November's elections and Kelley's resignation.
The timing -- just after Kelley leaves and just before the election -- is suspicious, but more important is the principle of keeping local control, said Scott Moss, president of the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters.
"Even if it's a savings now, which I don't think it will be, what's been shown is that when you lose control you end up losing service later on," Moss said. "If they think they want to close a fire station, there's nothing we can do to stop it."
Councilman Fred Shorett put the item on the agenda two weeks ago, and when it failed he said he intended to bring it back. Shorett did not return phone calls.
But the San Bernardino Police Officers Association said it looked like "political retaliation" before "Kelley's political corpse was even cold."
"It is common knowledge that longer response times for a Fire Department often result in greater incidents of injury and death," the union wrote on its blog. "When a life is on the line, mere seconds make a huge difference."
Shorett has said he would not accept any proposal that does not guarantee the same level of service.
Also on Monday, the council will vote on whether to set a special election for Kelley's seat for Feb. 4, the date of an expected run-off election.
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