10:00 PM PST on Friday, February 26, 2010

CASSIE MACDUFF

Over the past decade, San Bernardino County has been like the little Dutch boy, plugging the leaks in its ethics dike only to find more ethical leaks spouting here, there and everywhere.

After a sweetheart lease in 1998 on a building owned by a supervisor’s buddies, the county wrote a new policy requiring competitive bidding on real estate leases.

After a bribe-ridden, no-bid contract to operate the county’s landfills in the 1990s, the county committed to open bidding.

Still, in the past 18 months, five former county officials have been charged with misusing public money, lying to the grand jury and failing to report gifts from a developer who got a $102 million settlement from the county.

Now the DA has announced his ethics reform proposals. Lots of luck.

Not that the proposals don’t have merit. They do. But the success rate isn’t promising.

DA Mike Ramos traces many of the county’s problems to supervisors’ meddling in day-to-day operations.

He proposed reforms that would keep the supervisors’ hands off decisions that should be made by the county administrative officer.

He also proposed limits on campaign contributions and regulation of political action committees that allegedly tainted the settlement.

Assistant DA Jim Hackleman said Ramos is concerned about $100,000 chunks of money coming from a single source and flowing through PACs to influence elections.

To insulate elections from money, the DA also wants to limit campaign contributions from a single source to a candidate or committee, as other counties do.

But contribution limits are a sticky wicket, often challenged as unconstitutional.

I’d rather see elected officials prohibited from voting on matters that financially benefit anyone who gives them more than a certain amount. Hackleman said that may be worth exploring.

But no matter what happens, I’m afraid the reforms won’t end the constantly morphing corruption of San Bernardino County.

For instance, supervisors haven’t learned the lesson of no-bid contracts.

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