Supervisor questions tribal leader’s eligibility
Joe Nelson and James Rufus Koren, Staff Writers
Posted: 05/09/2011 07:16:19 PM PDT

San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry says there are “serious legal questions” about San Manuel tribal Chairman James Ramos’ eligibility to run to replace him on the Board of Supervisors.

In a strongly worded statement on Monday, the embattled supervisor implied that Ramos is either ineligible or unfit to serve on the board because of his position with the government of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Ramos, backed by officials from cities in the county’s 3rd District, and with about a dozen supporters holding signs reading “Vamos con Ramos,” Spanish for “We go with Ramos,” announced Monday he would seek Derry’s seat next year.

Ramos’ campaign characterized the Derry statement as an early attack.

“An elected official cannot serve two masters,” Derry said. “As a leader of a separate `sovereign nation,’ is Mr. Ramos even bound by the county laws he would be voting upon as supervisor?”

Ramos’ campaign manager, David Gilliard, said Ramos is eligible to run for supervisor.

Since the adoption of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted full U.S. citizenship to America’s indigenous peoples, many Native Americans have served in elected offices.

“Any debate of whether (Native Americans) could vote or run for office ended in 1924,” Gilliard said.

Among those who stood by Ramos’ side at a Monday news conference outside the San Bernardino County Government Center were San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris, Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, Yucaipa Mayor Dick Riddell and San Bernardino Police Chief Keith Kilmer.

They described Ramos as a “man of integrity” who has shown exemplary leadership.

Ramos’ announcement comes two weeks after the state Attorney General’s Office filed felony and misdemeanor charges against Derry for allegedly failing to report a $5,000 campaign contribution that prosecutors believe was laundered through a political action committee controlled by former county Assessor Bill Postmus.

Ramos, at his news conference, pledged to attract more business to the county, maintain and create more jobs, cut government waste and duplication, and work to reach a balanced budget with prudent reserves.

Over the past several months, Ramos said, he has received numerous telephone calls from community leaders asking that he consider running for the Board of Supervisors. The recent events involving Derry, he said, have increased the urgency of those calls.

“The people of San Bernardino County have been let down time and time again,” said Ramos, 44, who has served as San Manuel chairman since 2008. “The people cannot have faith in their government when key government officials are being … forced to recuse themselves from important duties and votes due to legal problems.”

In addition to serving as San Manuel tribal chairman, Ramos has served on the San Bernardino Community College District board of trustees since 2005.

Should Ramos be elected supervisor, Gilliard said Ramos would seek the advice of county counsel on any agenda item having to do with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

It was unclear Monday whether Ramos would step down as San Manuel chairman or opt against seeking another term. His term as chairman ends in April.

Gilliard said Ramos will be discussing that issue with tribal members and will likely make an announcement next week.

He also said Derry’s statement – which calls Ramos a “casino boss” and a “Leona Helmsley-style politician,” referring to the billionaire hotel operator who was convicted of tax evasion – is offensive.

“We think it’s telling that Neil Derry’s first reaction to having a challenger would be to go on such a negative attack,” Gilliard said. “It’s just so over-the-top, the first thing out of the box.”

Beyond eligibility, Derry said he wants to know more about Ramos’ taxes, saying in his statement that Ramos “could vote to raise our taxes without having to pay the same taxes he is imposing on everyone else” because he lives on the San Manuel reservation.

He called on Ramos to release his personal tax records.

“The citizens of the 3rd District deserve to know whether Mr. Ramos pays state and local taxes,” Derry said.

Derry spokesman Chris Jones said Derry plans to release his own tax records “as soon as we can get that information out.”

Ramos receives a tax-free monthly stipend of more than $100,000 from his tribe generated from profits from San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino. Because he is a member of a sovereign Indian tribe, he doesn’t have to pay property taxes on his primary residence on the reservation nor does he have to pay sales tax on any merchandise purchased and delivered to the reservation.

Gilliard said Ramos does not intend to release his tax records. He also said Ramos pays plenty of taxes despite living on the reservation.

“He pays more taxes than most people,” Gilliard said. “He pays federal income tax, property tax to San Bernardino County on two homes he owns, business taxes and sales tax for things he buys outside the reservation in the county.”

To read entire story, click here.