S.B. County supervisor's final expenditures undone after successor's proposal

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

The first proposal of Neil Derry's career as a San Bernardino County supervisor Tuesday was to wipe out the last acts of his predecessor.

In his final board meeting, former 3rd District supervisor Dennis Hansberger spent almost $2.7 million of the office's discretionary funds -- money that otherwise would have been available to Derry.

The funds went to six projects, including landscape improvements at a senior center, a new traffic signal and an international film festival at Big Bear Lake.

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Derry agreed that the projects were worthy. But in the latest indication that there is little love lost between the political rivals, Derry said Hansberger spent the money to keep it out of his hands.

"(I) believe there are better funding sources" than the discretionary funds, Derry said at Tuesday's meeting.

Derry said the 3rd District had about $800,000 in discretionary funds left before the board agreed to rescind the spending.

Hansberger did not respond to a request for comment.

Derry and Hansberger traded stinging criticisms during a heated election campaign last spring. Derry's supporters portrayed Hansberger as a last vestige of the 1990s scandal-ridden county government era. Hansberger's backers called Derry a puppet of the powerful unions that backed him.

Derry scored an upset victory and toppled the 20-year veteran.

Derry said he had little communication with Hansberger as he transitioned from San Bernardino city councilman to supervisor.

Derry said he moved into an empty office, with no records of the district's projects. On Tuesday, he expressed frustration while explaining his move to rescind Hansberger's final expenditures.

"This is what was left of the Moonridge business plan," Derry said, opening an empty three-ring binder over his head. The plan involves the future of the Big Bear Lake zoo.

The other four supervisors initially expressed reservations about Derry's request. Having approved Hansberger's final actions, they were not eager to undo their votes.

"I'm stuck in the middle," Chairman Paul Biane said.

He asked Derry to defer the vote until next week to allow time to review the projects, but Derry pressed for action.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said he was sympathetic to the communication problem, and paved way for approval by suggesting that Derry report on the status of the projects losing funding within 30 days.

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

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