Online site details gifts to S.B. county officials

The Press-Enterprise

Sports and alcohol.

Those two dominate when it comes to the gifts San Bernardino County's elected officials receive.

The gifts are outlined in conflict-of-interest forms newly available on the Internet, making San Bernardino County the first in the state to allow public access of the documents online.

It is all supposed to be listed there, from a $65 bottle of cognac and $250 in champagne to a $50 signed football and hundreds of dollars in baseball tickets.

The forms also list sources of income, loans and real-estate holdings as a way for residents to gauge leaders' potential conflicts of interest.

"To me, it is important for us not to hide behind anything," said Supervisor Gary Ovitt, the board's chief proponent in placing the Form 700s online.


Putting the documents online is the latest effort by county leaders to make local government more transparent to residents. The Board of Supervisors' weekly meetings are now shown live over the Internet and campaign finance reports soon go online.

From April 24 through Thursday, the clerk of the board's Web site, which includes links to the webcast and statements of economic interest, had more than 86,000 hits. The Form 700 site had 12,000 hits, according to the county.

In the past, between 200 and 300 people per year would visit the clerk's office to view Form 700s, Ovitt said.

"Twelve thousand in a month's time shows this is a valuable tool," he said.

While the county is making documents available online, it has fought to keep others private. The county denies access to e-mails supervisors write and has fought in court this year to prevent a local newspaper from gaining access to two supervisors' calendars.

Scandal Ripples

Supervisor Josie Gonzales said all county leaders have been "painted with a broad brush" because of past corruption scandals. Putting the forms online "goes a long way toward that transparency we are looking for," she said.

Gonzales, who has released calendars, said she doesn't see any hypocrisy in allowing access to the public documents online but fighting to keep others private. She said the county must protect certain confidentialities and must keep in mind potential liabilities.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said he would have preferred for the county to make campaign finance data available online first.

But allowing access to conflict-of-interest documents is a service to residents, Stern said.

"It gives the public an idea of potential conflicts and that's what this is all about," he said. "It makes the officials much more careful about reporting and reporting everything."

The forms available online cover all of 2006 and are available for elected leaders and other top officials, from supervisors to County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer and chiefs of staff.

So what can one find detailed in the forms?

Assessor Bill Postmus, a former supervisor, accepted the most in gifts of the county's elected leaders, $513.34 worth last year.

The majority, about $378 worth, came in the form of baseball tickets from organizations including Southern California Edison and the investment firm Lehman Brothers. Postmus is an avid Angels fan.

His disclosure form also reports income he received as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party. Postmus' income from the party ranged between $10,000 and $100,000. The forms include a range of value, not the exact amount of income.

"He loves baseball and when there is an opportunity when someone invites him to a game, he is going to take it up as a friendly gesture," spokesman Adam Aleman said.

Postmus doesn't "make any promises or commitments" based on tickets to baseball games, Aleman said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Biane accepted a $65 bottle of cognac from a company called DW Development, a $75 gift basket from the National Community Renaissance; and dinner and Colorado Rockies tickets from the law firm of Best, Best and Krieger valued at $105.62.

Biane also has investments in a host of real-estate and farming interests, including a Kern County farm where he is a partner with his brother.

Ovitt received a $50 signed football and $75 in wine from Dr. James Lally, president of Chino Valley Medical Center. Ovitt also accepted a $150 Chino Hills logo jacket from the city's mayor pro tem, Curt Hagman.

Gonzales accepted $249.99 in champagne, $82 in tequila and $13 worth of candy from DW Development.

Her form, the longest of the five supervisors at 10 pages, outlines interests in her family's restaurant, Mexico Lindo in Fontana, and rental properties in Fontana and Colton.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, appointed to the board in January, reported one gift, a $100 gift card from Postmus, his former boss. Mitzelfelt served as chief of staff during Postmus' tenure as a supervisor from 2000 to 2006.

Supervisor Dennis Hansberger last year reported receiving no gifts. His form outlines a property he owns in Fawnskin near Big Bear Lake and lists his wife's medical practice.

Reach Duane W. Gang at 909-806-3062 or dgang@PE.com

Gifts to elected leaders

Statements of economic interest, which detail gifts and sources of income, are now available online for San Bernardino County officials at http://ww.sbcounty.gov/cob. Gifts included:

$50 football to Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

$65 bottle of cognac to Supervisor Paul Biane.

$75 Clipper tickets to District Attorney Mike Ramos.

$249.99 in champagne to Supervisor Josie Gonzales.

$378 in baseball tickets to Assessor Bill Postmus, a former supervisor.

Source: San Bernardino County Form 700s

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