Ouster of San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus likely lengthy, costly

The Press-Enterprise

It could take two years and cost taxpayers more than $1 million to remove from office San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus, who has been dogged by accusations of drug abuse and whose department has been under investigation by the district attorney.

The possible time frame and cost of the legal proceedings are included in a report compiled by county lawyers for presentation to the Board of Supervisors at their weekly meeting today.

The county would need to hire outside lawyers -- an independent special counsel -- to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward and, if so, build a case against Postmus. San Bernardino County is the only county in California that allows supervisors to remove elected officials other than fellow board members.
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The board would act as a judicial body, hearing evidence and issuing subpoenas for witnesses that could include Postmus. The county would be required to pay for a defense attorney for the assessor, who would have an opportunity to respond. The hearing would be public.

Removal would require the approval of four out of the five supervisors in a vote. The decision would be open to appeal in the courts. According to the report prepared by county lawyers, "because of the uniqueness of the County Charter provision, we anticipate legal challenge."

The board requested a nearly identical report in July, in the first weeks after the release of a grand jury report that criticized the assessor's department for possible cronyism and misuse of the county e-mail system to support political campaigns.

The assessor's department submitted a written response to the grand jury report, but supervisors have asked Postmus to address the criticisms at a public meeting.

As the county board began pressuring the assessor, Postmus left on a nearly three-month medical leave for an undisclosed ailment. During the leave, media reports surfaced that alleged Postmus had previously battled an addiction to methamphetamines.

Several sources, including board Chairman Paul Biane and Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, said the assessor had spent at least one stint in rehabilitation for an addiction to pain killers.

In November, supervisors unanimously approved a letter of censure against the assessor. Postmus has said the attacks against him are politically motivated.

Scott Vanhorne, a spokesman for Biane, who brought the letter of censure before the board, has not made a determination on whether to pursue the ouster of Postmus, but wanted to gather as much information on options.

"It is a pretty large step to take," Vanhorne said. "It's something that the board would not take lightly."

Through a spokesman, Postmus said he had no comment.

Reach Zeke Minaya at 909-806-3062 or zminaya@PE.com

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