Hansberger

10:31 PM PDT on Monday, August 1, 2011

By MARK MUCKENFUSS
The Press-Enterprise

For Dennis Hansberger, it was clear: Colonies Partners had little or no real foundation for its claim against the county, he said.

“It was simple,” he said. When it came to assessing the worth of a flood control drainage area on Colonies’ Upland property, which the company said had interfered with its ability to develop the land, “the value of the hole was zero or less.”

Hansberger, along with Josie Gonzales, were the only two San Bernardino County supervisors to vote against a $102 million settlement agreement with Colonies in 2006.

Dennis Hansberger says he has hope the county may be able to turn a new page.

In recently released grand jury testimony, Hansberger makes it clear that he opposed any significant settlement from the beginning and that he had grave concerns about the motivations and actions of other board members, particularly Bill Postmus and Paul Biane.

Hansberger lost a re-election bid in 2008 to Neil Derry. Since then, he has kept busy serving on civic committees, working as a consultant and maintaining the citrus grove and gardens that surround his Redlands home. In the wake of the grand jury investigation and indictment of Postmus, Biane and others on corruption charges, he has had time to consider what went wrong.

“It’s oddly encouraging and disappointing at the same time,” he said of the recent events.

The fact that corruption and scandal have tainted county government for the past decade and a half is discouraging, he said. But he has hope that the county may be able to turn a new page. Of course, he’s had that hope before.

‘Politics Has Changed’

Hansberger, a Redlands native, got involved in local politics at an early age. In fact, in 1975 when he was 34, he became one of the Board of Supervisors’ youngest chairmen.

A few years earlier, he had helped Donald Beckord win a supervisor seat. When, after a single term, Beckord decided not to run again, Hansberger’s first wife convinced him he should step into the race. He won and joined the board in 1972.

“It was a very different activity in those days,” he said, remembering his first two terms as a supervisor for the Third District, “much more community and service oriented than it has become. I think the whole world of politics has changed. You see it now with the discussions of the debt limit. People of different beliefs used to like each other and enjoy the discussion. They didn’t try to destroy one another.”

In 1980, Hansberger returned to the private sector as a consultant, primarily for local cities, on environmental impact studies. He did work for Hesperia when Robert Rizzo, the now infamous former Bell city manager, was with the city.

When the corruption of county officials James Hlawek and Harry Mays was uncovered in the mid-1990s, Hansberger was inspired to get back into government.

“My love of the county and pride in the office made me say, ‘Let’s see if we can’t fix it,’ ” he said. “I thought there were others there that I might be able to work with to turn the nose of the ship.”

With Board of Supervisors chairman Jerry Eaves at the helm, however, Hansberger found himself outgunned. It wasn’t until Eaves resigned in 2004, after pleading guilty in his own felony corruption trial, that Hansberger said he felt a change was at hand.

“I had real hope that we had turned the corner,” he said. “Little did I know it would rise again in a whole new way very shortly.”

Hansberger backed Postmus in his campaign against Kathy Davis in 2000. When he and his third wife, Karen, attended Postmus’ election celebration, Hansberger remembers Karen being less than impressed with the new supervisor, especially when he went to introduce his staff and couldn’t recall their names. Hansberger put the gaffe down to nervousness.

“(Karen) gave me quite an earful about what she saw,” he said. “She said, ‘He’s just self-interested.’ She was right and I was wrong.”

Hansberger said he eventually figured out that Postmus and Biane were not the kind of supervisors he had hoped they would be.

“It sort of crept in little by little, before I finally realized that their underlying interests were different than I thought,” he said.

What most troubled him as the Colonies lawsuit progressed, he said, was the information he felt was being shared with Colonies executives Jeff Burum and Dan Richards.

Hansberger told the grand jury that it became clear that Postmus and Biane were meeting with Burum and Richards on their own. He also felt confidential information from supervisors’ closed-door meetings on the Colonies suit was being divulged, sometimes during the meetings themselves via phone texts. Postmus, he said, was constantly on his Blackberry during meetings.

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