10:00 PM PDT on Monday, May 9, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Manuel tribal Chairman James Ramos announced Monday that he will challenge 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry in next year’s San Bernardino County board election, kicking off what is shaping up to be a contentious campaign.

Ramos, a member of the San Bernardino Community College board, said he had been contemplating running for several months but the decision took on more urgency with the criminal charges filed against Derry two weeks ago.

“The people cannot have faith in their government when key government officials are being indicted and being forced to recuse themselves from important duties and votes due to legal problems,” Ramos said.

Last week Derry announced he would recuse himself from votes involving federal funding due to the criminal charges filed by the state attorney general against him April 26. A provision of federal law that allows for federal money to be withheld when a member of a governing board faces criminal charges has raised concerns about whether Derry’s status could jeopardize funds.

Derry, who has not been arrested and will be arraigned June 9, was charged with perjury and filing a false report — both felonies — and a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a campaign contribution.

Ramos presents a well-financed and influential opponent to Derry. He is in his second two-year term as chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which operates a casino near Highland. The tribe is one of the top donors to elected officials statewide and a significant contributor to charities.

Although he described restoring faith in government as one of the reasons for his candidacy, Ramos said he does not plan to focus on the corruption scandals that have troubled the county.

He said his top priority will be job creation.

“We have to somehow get beyond this and move forward and make this county what it once was,” Ramos said.

Derry took immediate aim at Ramos in a blistering news release, describing him as a “casino boss” and questioning whether, as a leader of a sovereign Indian nation, he could serve as supervisor.

“An elected official cannot serve two masters,” Derry stated. “How can Mr. Ramos be held accountable for his actions when he is protected by his own tribal courts and is receiving lucrative special tax exemptions that are available to almost no one else in San Bernardino?”

Derry questioned whether Ramos pays income and property taxes and called on him to release his tax records. He said he would release his own records as well.

Dave Gilliard, a campaign consultant for Ramos, said Derry’s accusations were false and a “very offensive direction for Neil Derry to be going right out of the box here.”

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