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Senator Swing's explanation the City Charter
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 4:57 pm    Post subject: Senator Swing's explanation the City Charter Reply with quote

With the recent decision to scrap the old city charter, the following history of the city charter as explained by Senator Swing is enlightening. The citizens of San Bernardino were mis-led by politically ambitious outsiders with no history nor love for the city other than their ability to enrich themselves through special projects, sweet-heart contracts and the retention of jobs in areas that have and continue to suck key resources away from vital city service groups. I certainly hope you will read and share this detailed and critical explanation for future reference.

Ralph E. Swing Tells Background Of City Charter


By L. Burr Belden

San Bernardino is a city with a corporate history unlike any of its neighbors. One hundred years ago this month San Bernardino was incorporated by act of the State Legislature. Fifty years ago the residents voted for freeholders to write a city charter. Before and between the dates of 1854 and 1904, however there were other steps both forward and regressive.

Early in the 19th century priests from the San Gabriel Mission formed an outpost in the valley. Time passed and after the mission era closed San Bernardino became a rancho grant to three brothers of the Lugo family and Diego Sepulveda. In 1851 a colony of Mormons arrived from Salt Lake, bought the San Bernardino rancho, and transformed the pastoral empire of the Mexican owners into farms and a townsite. The townsite became the City of San Bernardino.

After a brief period of rapid growth under the Mormon colonization San Bernardino suddenly shrank in size when the Mormons were recalled to Salt Lake. The remaining residents, not desiring to bear the costs of municipal government, dis-incorporated. The community organized as a town form of government. In May 1886 the city re-incorporated and operated under State law as a city of the 6th class.


On July 30, 1904 a special municipal election was held at which 15 residents were selected to prepare a city charter, which in turn would be submitted to the voters for acceptance or rejection. The 15 citizens, known as a Board of Freeholders, included A. G. Kendall, president; J.W. Catick, secretary; John Andreson Sr., I.R. Brunn, H. M. Barton, M.L. Cook, George M. Cooley, Frank B. Daley, J. J. Hanford, W. S. Hooper, L. D. Houghton, Joseph Ingresol, James Murray, William M. Parker and Judge H. C. Rolfe.
Ralph E. Swing, city attorney; and Harry L. Allison, city clerk worked with the freeholders though neither was a member of the group. Swing, in particular was called upon for numerous duties in the actual framing of the document. The freeholders, themselves, were without exception men prominent in the community. Cooley, Hanford, Catick, Brunn, Barton and Andreson all served as the city’s mayor. Kendall later headed the County Board of Supervisors. Parker and Hanford were the city’s leading industrialists. Cooley was reorganizer and initial president of the Chamber of Commerce. Rolfe was a former Superior Court judge and Daley later became one.

Brunn did a real estate and insurance business and was also a wholesale and retail dealer in wines and liquors. Andreson was president of the Farmers and Exchange Bank. Barton was both capitalist and Mission district rancher. Cook, a well known civil engineer, was county surveyor. Cooley was head of the prominent hardware firm bearing his name. Dailey was an attorney. Hanford headed the Hanford Iron Works. Hooper was cashier of the San Bernardino National Bank. Houghton was a wholesale and retail tobacco dealer. Ingersoll was senior partner in Ingersol & Isler, large beer and wine distributor. Murray was proprietor of the M&O saloon. Parker headed the Parker Iron Works which was beginning to make ice machinery. Rolfe had his law offices in the same building with Daley, while Catick was an undertaker.

Actually only 13 of the freeholders signed the official copy of the charter on October 27, 1904 when it was submitted to the State Legislature for approval. Both Brunn and Daley were absent from the meeting thus their names do not appear on the printed copies of the document.


City Clerk Allison noted the absences of Brunn and Daley in the certification he sent to the Legislature. The certification further attested that the entire document had been published in both the Sun and the then Times-Index for a period of more than 20 days. The Legislature approved the document when their session began the next calendar year, the Assembly and Senate both acting favorably on Jan. 30. C. F. Riley, last president of the Board of Trustees or mayor ex-officio, proclaimed the receipt of the approved document and San Bernardino was a chartered city.

Of the 15 Freeholders who wrote the document only Ingersoll, who also served as the Organge Show president, survives. Swing who subsequently served the county as state senator for 30 years, recalls much of the background which explains some of the charter’s provisions. The 1904 charter contained a broad grant of powers, one which permitted San Bernardino to exercise a much greater measure of self government than was possible for municipalities operating under general code. If certain amendments voted in 1908 are included, the charter will be found to contain 13 articles and 244 sections.

Economical government was not simply urged as a goal. It was made mandatory by a tax rate limitation of $1.35 per $100 of assessed valuation. Some of the charter sections granted powers subject to regulatory state legislation but others appeared to be an absolute delegation of authority not unlike those historically give “free cities.” Twenty-six general subjects for legislation were listed. No. 1 empowered the mayor and common council to buy property but provided disposal of real estate must receive a vote of the people.

Provision for establishing and maintaining hospitals, cemeteries, parks, street railways, telephone and telegraph lines, gas and electrical works, public libraries, museums, gymnasiums, public baths and public schools are all found among the 26 grants of authority.


Under the sweeping provisions the city might own and operate its own utilities or provide them to the residents by the grant of franchises. The franchise grant provisions gave municipal authority much regulatory power for it provided that at any time the council might order repairs and also might force utility lines under ground. Presumably if a street railway did not maintain either a schedule or equipment deemed satisfactory its tracks could have been ordered sunk to a depth of 15 feet or so and the city of 5,000 would have been the world’s smallest with an operating subway. According to Senator Swing, the underground provision was aimed particularly at the power and telephone companies as a means of keeping their pole lines in proper repair for the city at any time could demand removal of poles and the placing of the lines underground in conduit.

According to Senator Swing, “A section of the charter which calls for some understanding of local conditions is that on police and fire departments. By Section 151 the number of regular police officer for each 1,500 inhabitants. There is quite a story back of this. “Before the adoption of the charter the principal law enforcement officer was the town marshal. As each election came around the fight was centered on who was to be town marshal. Police were appointed by the trustees. Those who were in wanted to stay in and those who were out wanted to get in. It was a police fight every election. The city trustee candidate was elected usually, who made the greatest number of promises as to whom he would appoint on the police force.


This was quite a job at the time and the number of police did not depend on the peace and quietness of the city, but rather by the number of saloon licenses that were issued. That is, the monthly license fee for a saloon was $100. Likewise $100 was the pay of a policeman. So to regulate the number of saloons the Charter Freeholders regulated the number of policemen as one to each 1,500 unit of population. Thus when the promises of the elected trustees exceeded the number of positions for regular policemen, the appointment of a special officer was sometimes resorted to. Generally speaking the police force was supported by the revenue from the liquor licenses.”

According to Senator Swing’s recollections the unique Section 42, which empowered the mayor and common council to order utilities under ground, was adopted because of current agitation by “city beautiful” groups. He remembers that “quite a number of franchises had theretofore been issued for construction of telephone, telegraph and power lines, some to responsible parties and some that didn’t last very long. Poles had become dilapidated and liens sagged. It was a disgraceful sight. The city wanted trees planted along the streets and the space between the curb and sidewalks beautified. The police and lines interfered with the carrying out of this program, and it seemed difficult to get any action, so the freeholders took it upon themselves to incorporate Section 42 in the charter.”

The water department was taken out of politics as the freeholders put its operation and control under a board of three water commissioners to be appointed for staggering terms to that no single mayor could name the entire board and further provided that the terms of commissioners should expire at a time a mayor was leaving office. Thus the retiring mayor got the appointment. Another safeguard included the provision that at no time could the entire board be members of the same political party.

Other boards were also set up including one of five to serve as trustees for the Free Public Library, these also to have staggered terms of office and to serve without compensation. The Board of Education, too given a measure of municipal supervision. Its members were to stand for office at regular municipal elections rather than at special school elections. The results was that a far larger number of voters chose the school board than was the case in districts organized under the State law.


Throughout the charter the prevailing democratic sentiments of the freeholders are apparent. Initiative, referendum and recall were provided for. By petition the residents could propose a law the council had failed to consider, could submit any unwanted ordinance to popular vote through referendum, and maintain a check over officials by the power of recall. The people, too, were given the opportunity of choosing various officials such as the city attorney, clerk, treasurer and judge. Lasting benefit has been derived by San Bernardino from the specific wording and careful detail of the charter, Senator Swing believes. “I wish to call attention to the detail with which the duties and powers of various officers are set forth in the charter,” he said. “I don’t know of any charter which was in existence at the time that carried so much detail and was so clear and explicit as the provisions of this charter. There could be no question as to the duties of the respective officers, nor could there by any questions to the power of the mayor or the powers of the city council. In this regard this charter cannot be improved on.”

The city charter written in the early fall months of 1904 is the one under which San Bernardino’s municipal government operates today. There have been numerous amendments. The school system has been largely divorced from city government and is no longer required to file its estimated budget with the city. Municipal civil service came in during the 1920s granting security of tenure to employees who were no longer hired and fired as mayors and concilmanic majorities changed.

It may be significant that during the last attempt to write a new charter, some 18 months ago, the new charter commission was an appointive one rather than being elected as was the board of freeholders in 1904, and that the proposed charter prepared was not printed in both local papers for anything like a 20-day period, that several city officers were made appointive rather than elective, and that the famous Section 42 controlling utilities was deleted. The proposed charter failed to receive a majority vote so San Bernardino continues to operate under its old one, as amended from time to time.
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