The legal requirements surrounding the 2011 resignation of San Bernardino City Councilman Jason Desjardins due to his business, Big Z towing, having a tow rotation contract with the San Bernardino Police Department is now emerging in the race between Third District Supervisor Neil Derry and San Manuel Tribal Member James C. Ramos.
Even though Councilman Desjardins recused himself, or abstained from voting, on matters related to his business. An investigation of Desjardins by City Attorney James F. Penman and the San Bernardino County District Attorney ensued.
Under the threat of prosecution, Desjardins resigned his council seat citing the need to protect his business interests.
The choice for Desjardins was either to let go of his business and livlihood, or be a part-time unemployed councilman.
No charges were ever filed.
Now the same issue is arising once again.
There’s no question Ramos, as a Native American, has the constitutional right to seek public office. This fact has never been in dispute.
The California Election Code states as much.
However, if elected, Ramos runs into a head-on collision with the California Government Code in regard to taking office. A code addressing prohibitions against “material” conflicts of interest by officeholders.
Any government official acting with a material financial interest is guilty of a felony at worst, and resignation form office at a minimum.
Specifically, Government Code sections 1090 and 1092 layout unequivocally the ability to hold office with the presence of a material financial interest with one’s officeholder status, and whether or not recusal or abstention cure any such conflict. The matter at issue involves Ramos’ position as a bonafide profit-sharing member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a Native American Tribe operating a gaming casino in the foothills adjacent to the cities of Highland and San Bernardino.
A location within the Third Supervisorial District.
Also present within the Third District sphere of influence is the Inland Valley Development Agency (IVDA) and San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA). Both agencies are charged with utilizing property tax increment in the reuse and redevelopment of the former Norton Air Force Base, which also includes a vast area surrounding the base, now airport, boundary.
Derry is seated on both boards.
These are two entities where the San Manuel Tribe’s real estate holdings converge.
As an example, the Tribe now owns the areas of the former military installation previously used for on-base housing and also the facility and property occupied by the U.S. Air Force Combat Camera Operation.
The Tribe currently is party to an agreement with Majestic Realty, a Ramos campaign supporter, to develop the former base housing property.
The issues at hand, while subtle, loom large politically and legally.
Where Ramos, who receives roughly $1.5 million in annual “pro-rata” profit distributions (terminology from Ramos’ own Form 700 – Statement of Economic Disclosure) from the Tribe’s operations, runs into trouble is the fact his duties as supervisor would, not could, come into conflict with his “material” financial interests in the San Manuel Government and Gaming operations.
Make no mistake, Ramos’ interests are not “remote”, but “material” as the law denotes. In other words any decision affecting the wealth of the Tribe impacts Ramos’ interests. Interest he cannot divest himself of.
This is a situation where recusal nor abstention from voting can resolve.
San Manuel now has millions of dollars in non-competitively bid contracts, with the county to provide services to the Tribal Government.
At center is two contracts. One for the Sheriff to provide law enforcement patrols on the reservation, and the other for the District Attorney to review criminal cases involving casino patrons, not-to-mention, the Tribe’s own Native American members.
For example, a contract executed August 10, 2012, and expiring on June 30, 2013, has the Tribe paying $1,048,909 to the County for services of the District Attorney. Ramos, as then Tribal Chairman, personally signed the agreement.
If Ramos were elected to the Board of Supervisors, he would immediately be subject to conflict of interest charges as soon as he were to begin casting votes.
In addition, Ramos would be conflicted as a board appointee to the IVDA and SBIAA boards.
A third-level appointment would be the Indian Gaming Local Benefit Committee. This committee is established for the sole purpose of doling out funds paid by local Tribe’s, particularly San Manuel, in an effort to offset the their gambling casino’s impact on the local community.
The underlying legal issue that recusal or abstention cannot cure is Ramos’ ability, if elected, to influence material issues as well as his colleagues on those very same material issues.
What is still yet to be determined, is whether or not Ramos and/or his backers were ever made aware of the plethora of legal issues surrounding his candidacy?
If there was knowledge within the Ramos campaign, then serious questions will be leveled.
The words deceit, duplicity and possibly stupidity ring large here.
With Ramos’ fundraising and expenditures of more than $1.2 million, it’s not hard to imagine the unsettling situation likely to develop with his donors and more importantly voters regardless of victory or defeat.
The potential debacle could have serious consequences.
Should Ramos win and not be able to serve, his seat would fall to a two-year appointment by four county supervisors. Should no decision be made within thirty days, California Governor Jerry Brown would make the decision.
A special election would be held in June 2014 to fill the remaining two years of the existing term.
InlandPolitics.com has learned that at least one legal opinion from a highly-regarded firm, specializing in public law, has been obtained regarding the situation and that legal action is likely to come forth, post-election, in the event of a Ramos win on November 6.
Only in San Bernardino County……..
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