10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales was selected as chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday even as Supervisor Neil Derry accused her of possibly being implicated in a criminal investigation.

The selection of a new chair and vice-chair, usually a routine process every two years, took on a more divisive tone with supporters of Gonzales urging her selection and Derry criticizing her.

Gonzales was selected on a 3-2 split, with Janice Rutherford and Gary Ovitt, who had been chairman, supporting her. Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt voted against her. Mitzelfelt was then selected as vice chairman on a unanimous vote.

As vice chairwoman for the past two years and the senior board member who had yet to serve as chair, Gonzales was next in line for the leadership post, according to traditional board practice. The chair is responsible for presiding over meetings and acts as the board’s executive agent.

Derry said he was concerned about having Gonzales as chairwoman because of an FBI investigation into the county-owned Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. FBI and district attorney’s investigators seized documents from the hospital during a search in November.

Authorities have not commented on their investigation but county officials have said the hospital, for at least two years, waived or reduced deductibles for hospital and county employees, hospital-affiliated doctors and others.

Derry said he was approached by employees troubled by what was going on. They reported that officials received uncharted care as unregistered patients with the hospital maintaining “Do Not Bill” files, he said.

“My colleague, Supervisor Gonzales, is one of the individuals implicated as having participated in this activity,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Gonzales called the allegations “manufactured and politically motivated.”

“There is nothing there to speak of,” she said. “I find it offensive. I find it a lack of respect on Supervisor Derry’s part. It’s a shame that his manners and his ethics are so lacking and that he does not recognize decorum when it’s in front of him.”

She accused Derry of flouting ethics by ignoring an admonition by the U.S. Attorney’s office not to discuss the case.

Derry also accused Gonzales of fighting ethics and reform in county government, including his proposal for an ethics commission. He said she held a status quo “sweep it under the rug mentality.”

Gonzales said she supports law enforcement investigations, including the one at the hospital, but said she does not believe in expanding government through proposals such as the ethics commission. She said she supports proposals that she believes are realistic.

Before the board vote, eight supporters spoke in favor of Gonzales. Joe Ayala, a Rialto Unified School District board member, said they had heard about Derry’s opposition on Internet blogs.

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