Monday, July 13, 2009

San Bernardino S.B. County supervisor to push for ethics panel

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry is making a renewed push for an ethics commission as well as a new proposal that would allow for easier access to documents.

Derry provided more details about the proposed ethics commission and the new proposal for a "sunshine ordinance" in a meeting with The Press-Enterprise editorial board Thursday. He also said he may take the latter idea to voters in a ballot measure if his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors reject it.

Last week's county grand jury report, which included a section on governmental reform that backed the establishment of an ethics commission, has provided fresh momentum to the proposal, Derry said.

He said he hopes the supervisors can begin discussions of the ethics commission within the next few months.

"We want to push it back to the front seat and get it moving," said Derry, who made forming an ethics commission part of his election platform last year.

The commission would be an independent panel of five members empowered to review the conduct of elected county officials and their staff and fine them for any campaign finance violations. Members would be randomly selected from applicants who meet a list of criteria and serve two- to four-year terms, Derry said.

He said the commission would have an annual budget of $500,000 and three staff members.

While preparing their proposal, Derry and his staff have met with other jurisdictions that have ethics commissions.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, has also agreed to provide advice, Derry said. Stern helped set up the Los Angeles commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Supervisor Paul Biane also has backed the idea of an ethics commission and is working on the proposal with Derry. But, in an interview last week, Biane estimated the cost of an ethics commission much higher than Derry -- about $2 million -- and said it could be difficult to start a new program during such a tight fiscal time.

Derry said he will pledge $50,000 from his district's discretionary budget and challenged his four colleagues to do the same.

Supervisor Josie Gonzales likened an ethics commission to a "baby sitter" in a speech two weeks ago, but she said Thursday that she is still open to the idea and studying what other jurisdictions have done.

"If they have some good tools, I would definitely be interested in supporting that in San Bernardino County," she said.

However, Gonzales said her concern is that it does not create more government bureaucracy.

Although Derry said the ethics commission proposal could be changed as it's discussed by supervisors, he was insistent about the sunshine ordinance proposal.

The ordinance would eliminate "deliberative process" as the sole reason to redact or not release public documents. The county has cited deliberative process on occasions in denying requests for public documents.

"It is abused by the county of San Bernardino, there's no doubt about it," Derry said. He said he will propose a ballot measure if the board does not approve the ordinance.

Gonzales said she is open to the idea but said it was unhelpful for Derry to threaten to take the proposal to voters before broaching it with the board.

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or


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