Friday, January 20, 2011

Though he created what’s shaping up as a hornet’s nest of indignation and bitterness by opposing Supervisor Josie Gonzales’ bid for the chairmanship of the county board of supervisors last week, Supervisor Neil Derry could have done nothing else, as we see it.

Ever since joining the board in December 2008, Derry has carved out the reputation of reformer. After campaigning on a platform of battling the culture of corruption that has tainted San Bernardino County for too long, Derry soon began delivering on his promises.

In his first two years Derry has authored a now-adopted Sunshine Ordinance; drafted plans for an Ethics Commission, postponed because of budget constraints; questioned the county policy of home-garaged vehicles for employees; capped how much vacation employees exempt from civil service can accrue; proposed eliminating county-funded benefits to state-paid judges; and advocated benefit cuts for county elected officials, among others.

So it was only natural-and philosophically inevitable-that he should balk at Gonzales’ election to head the five-member board.

Derry said there were two principal reasons he bucked the county’s long-established policy that the board’s vice chairman automatically ascends to the chairmanship.

First, he noted that Gonzales had opposed both his Sunshine Ordinance and his Ethics Commission plan, actions that helped him conclude that Gonzales, as he termed it, “wants the status quo.”

He also chided her for comments she made when two doctors from Arrowhead Regional Medical Center came before the board to outline problems at the hospital. “Instead of expressing concern for the situation, Supervisor Gonzales chastised the two men for basically airing dirty laundry in public,” Derry said.

It was problems at ARMC on which he based his second reason for opposing Gonzales and backing Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt instead.

Derry told his colleagues he had been told early last year, by doctors and other ARMC personnel, of “irregularities” at the hospital. He said eyewitness accounts and other evidence indicated that several current and former county officials have received care at ARMC for which they were not charged.

Derry turned this information over to federal officials, and the FBI has launched an investigation.

Gonzales is one of the involved county officials, Derry said. Though hoping the allegations can be cleared up, he said he could not support her “with this cloud looming.”

Our other mountain supervisor, Janice Rutherford, backed Gonzales and moved for her election. Rutherford based her vote, she said, on her desire to adhere to the county’s leadership-succession policy, claiming straying from it could foster divisiveness and partisanship the board doesn’t need.

Rutherford also said that though Derry may have been given information about wrongdoing, she has no hard facts on which she could have opposed Gonzales.

With the investigation reportedly still underway and no findings yet announced, it’s too early to say who’s right on the underlying issues. Moreover, the question of whether allegations, and not their proof, should be enough to block Gonzales’ bid is not our call, but reposes in the realm of pure politics.

What we have concluded, however, is that, in seeking intellectual and political uniformity by opposing a chairmanship candidate who may be toting some heavy ethical baggage, Derry showed an attribute all too rare these days-consistency.

To read entire column, click here.