Paul Biane

10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, October 28, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

A heated campaign between San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane and Fontana Councilwoman Janice Rutherford has intensified in the months since June’s primary election.

Because neither received more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, they must face each other in a runoff election Tuesday. The 2nd District includes Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Lytle Creek and Crestline.

Rutherford has hammered away at Biane’s alleged role in a corruption investigation that has resulted in criminal charges against two former county officials.

Biane, meanwhile, has questioned Rutherford’s record in Fontana, accusing her of not being committed to transparency and of making poor financial decisions.

Only four years ago, Biane cruised to a second four-year term without any opposition. He was first elected in 2002, unseating incumbent Jon Mikels by attempting to link him to the county’s corruption scandals of the 1990s, during which some public officials were convicted of taking bribes.

Biane must now fend off questions of his own as he faces a tough re-election battle Tuesday after narrowly leading Rutherford in June in a field of five challengers. All but one of those candidates has since endorsed Rutherford.

Rutherford said an ethical cloud hangs over Biane.

“Until people start trusting their elected officials again, the elected officials are not going to have the political capital to truly be effective leaders in restoring the economy,” she said.

Biane has been linked to a criminal investigation of a November 2006 settlement in which the county paid a Rancho Cucamonga developer $102 million. Prosecutors say the settlement was the result of an illegal conspiracy involving extortion and bribes, and they have brought charges against Bill Postmus, who was chairman of the Board of Supervisors at the time, and Jim Erwin, a former assistant assessor.

Court documents appear to implicate Biane as one of five unindicted co-conspirators. Biane, Postmus and Supervisor Gary Ovitt, who was re-elected in June, were the three supervisors who voted to approve the settlement.

Biane has said he did nothing wrong and that his vote in favor of the settlement was to spare the county further financial losses if the case went to court. At one point in the campaign, Biane posted documents related to the Colonies Partners settlement on his campaign website to bolster his position.

His focus has since shifted to describing himself as a reformer, citing his sponsorship of a 2006 ballot measure enacting term limits on supervisors and his support for posting campaign disclosure statements online. Voters approved the measure, which limited supervisors to three terms while also increasing their pay.

Biane has also pointed to road, library and transportation projects in his district as examples of his ability to win funding for public improvements.

“I’ve done these things for the last eight years, and I’ve done them well,” he said.

Rutherford questioned Biane’s claims of being a reformer, noting he doesn’t mention that the term-limits measure he sponsored also boosted his and other supervisors’ salaries by about 50 percent.

Biane has criticized Rutherford’s commitment to reform, noting that her campaign manager, Ted Lehrer, is a former Postmus aide. He has also accused her and the Fontana City Council of poor financial decisions, a charge that has raised the ire of Rutherford’s colleagues.

Rutherford accused Biane of distorting the city’s financial condition, calling it “one of the most well-managed and stable cities in the Inland Empire.”

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