First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt

December 07, 2011 9:00 AM
Natasha Lindstrom, Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO • Tensions flared at Tuesday’s meeting of the San Bernardino County Supervisors, when 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt stuck by his decision to reject a quarterly budget adjustment and fellow supervisors accused him of being fiscally “irresponsible.”

Mitzelfelt, who represents the High Desert, is refusing to vote for a package of budget approvals on the heels of a controversial vote on Nov. 15. With Mitzelfelt and 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry opposing, the board voted to divvy up among all five districts a pot of staffing funds that historically had been going directly into the 1st District to account for its large geographic size.

The move was an unprecedented policy change that unfairly singled out the High Desert, according to Mitzelfelt, who suggested at the least the money be split among the districts with the most unincorporated square miles. He said it would be one thing to eliminate the funds entirely to save money, but that it was unwarranted for the more tightly packed districts to get the extra funds.

However, supervisors Josie Gonzales and Janice Rutherford touted the move as positive change treating all county residents equally.

At that Nov. 15 meeting, Mitzelfelt then voted “no” on the next agenda item, a quarterly budget approval for some $52.4 million in expenditures. The item died because it required a four-vote approval.

On Tuesday, Mitzelfelt again said he couldn’t approve an item including $10.15 million of those funds, which were designated for areas including county airports, human services, preschool services and risk management.

He offered instead to approve certain portions of the item considered critical to health and public safety.

“So in short you want to hold the rest of the budget hostage over your staff augmentation funding for your personal staff,” Rutherford, who represents the 2nd District, said to Mitzelfelt.

Mitzelfelt responded he wouldn’t put it that way. He said the loss of those funds hamper his ability to have a presence in a district spanning more than 15,000 square miles, and could threaten one of his field representatives and his ability to maintain his Hesperia office.

Mitzelfelt also said he believes the move represents a larger issue and was a switch from a June agreement.

“My position on this budget issue is based on both my continuing concerns about how this board has been prioritizing spending and the fact that some recent changes were a departure from what was agreed to during our normal budget approval process in June,” Mitzelfelt said by email after the meeting. “I expect leaders to keep their word.”

Gonzales, board chair and 5th District Supervisor, denied reneging on a prior agreement. She accused Mitzelfelt of threatening to spin the county into “crisis financial mode.” She called his proposal to “piece-meal” the agenda “totally unconventional” and said she couldn’t condone it.

“We cannot leverage what we want against other items if we don’t get our way,” Gonzales said at the meeting.

Derry, who now represents Barstow and Lucerne Valley, has sided with Mitzelfelt on the recent funding debates. But Derry had to recuse himself from the budget votes because he has not yet been cleared to vote on certain public funds since pleading guilty in July to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a campaign contribution.

County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux said he will need to consult with staff members about how to bring back the nixed budget items for approval.

Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at

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