Greg Devereaux

10:40 PM PST on Monday, February 15, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County Administrative Officer Greg Devereaux begins his first day on the job with the county once again in the spotlight due to a corruption scandal and a looming budget shortfall.

The Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session this afternoon to discuss recent corruption charges that have implicated former and current supervisors and cast suspicion on a November 2006 $102 million lawsuit settlement with a developer.

Devereaux, 58, who was hired last month to replace fired county administrator Mark Uffer, said the latest developments will certainly take some time and attention from supervisors, but he expects the county to continue to go about its business.

“I think (supervisors) are going to remain focused on the governance of the county,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether it will become a distraction. To date, in my conversations with them, I haven’t seen that.”

Last week, prosecutors charged Bill Postmus, former assessor and supervisor, and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin with more than a dozen criminal counts, accusing them of illegally conspiring to settle a legal battle with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners over flood control easements on the company’s 434-acre Upland development.

Five unnamed co-conspirators, including two Colonies managing partners, a current supervisor and chief of staff to a supervisor were accused of taking part as well. Details in the complaint, public records and statements suggest that Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, Board Chairman Gary Ovitt’s chief of staff, are among those referred to as John Does in the complaint.

Biane, Kirk and Ovitt have denied any wrongdoing.

Devereaux, Ontario city manager for 13 years, has come under scrutiny himself recently for his ties to Colonies.

Last month, the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to determine whether Devereaux and Biane violated disclosure laws by failing to properly report gifts.

According to Biane’s campaign records, he took a trip to Virginia on a private jet and went golfing with two managers from Colonies Partners in September 2008. Devereaux said the FPPC referral regarding him also involves a trip he took on a private jet in September 2008. He has declined to provide more details on the advice of the Ontario city attorney.

Devereaux reimbursed the plane’s owner at double the value of a commercial trip to that location. However, because of changes in the law, he was required to provide a greater reimbursement, he said. He said he is cooperating with the commission and will pay whatever is required by law.

At the time of the trip, Devereaux said Colonies had no business with Ontario and he did not know he would be taking the county job in the future.

He said he did not know enough to say whether the county should seek a return of the Colonies settlement as advocated by District Attorney Mike Ramos, but he is eager to hear what County Counsel Ruth Stringer recommends.

Colonies has defended the settlement as fair and appropriate.

Devereaux said the latest scandal could be the impetus for some reforms in county government.

“It does perhaps give some urgency to some of the exploration of the structural kinds of issues that could help avert some of the things that have historically occurred in the county,” he said.

Devereaux is no stranger to dealing with scandal. When he was hired as Ontario city manager in 1997, one of his first tasks was cleaning up city government following an embezzlement scandal that resulted in the arrest of three city officials.

He put in place procedures to add more supervision and accountability of public funds and the city established a phone line for tips or complaints about perceived ethics problems.

Devereaux comes to the county with almost 30 years in city government, including managing Ontario and Fontana, but San Bernardino will be his first county job.

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