December 15, 2009 10:49 AM

STEVE WILLIAMS
Opinion Page Editor

San Bernardino County’s government, as regularly recurring news of criminal behavior, scandals, and other tawdry revelations keep reminding us, ranks high among the most ethically challenged governmental bodies in the United States. A recent piece by Cassie MacDuff, a columnist for the Riverside Press-Enterprise, cites some figures which help explain why ethical behavior at the county level seems so far removed from the ideal.

For instance, MacDuff points out that while the inflation rate has stayed in the low single digits for the past five or six years, the budget of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has doubled. In fiscal 2004-05, county supervisors spent a total of $3.25 million to staff the five district offices. By fiscal 2008-2009, that had mushroomed to $6.5 million. In the same period, the number of each supervisor’s staff went from five or six people to today’s 10 to 14.

But the most disturbing figures involve supervisors’ pay. In 2006, each supervisor was paid — we refuse to apply the term “earned” in this regard — $99,000 a year. Today, taxpayers fork over nearly $152,000 a year to each of them, which is more than a 50 percent raise in three years. And that doesn’t take into account such things as benefit packages. In 2007 they voted to up their personal medical benefits to $25,000 each, all paid by taxpayers (they don’t personally contribute to their packages). On top of that they’ve given themselves car allowances of $12,000 a year, and $2,400 a year for “portable communication devices” — cell phones and the like.

Such arrogant appropriation of taxpayer funds, particularly during a time when the jobless rate is climbing steadily right along with mortgage foreclosures, business failures, and welfare rolls obviously sends a message to the rest of the county’s employees — which by the way have climbed from 12,000 ten years ago to 19,000 today. And the message? Hey, grab what you can while you can, and make sure your own nest is feathered first and most often.

No wonder residents are so cynical about their county government.