Credit: (source: lpj.com)

Last Updated on September 19, 2022 by BVN

S.E. Williams

I can hardly think of any job where–if you continuously failed to meet performance expectations or follow policy or continuously misused employer funds–you would not be subjected to some form of disciplinary action up to and including termination. 

The same does not appear to hold true however relative to elected officials and/or heads of government agencies. Again and again in the inland region, egregious failures across both counties are numerous yet the only one who feels the pinch of less than satisfactory performance are those impacted by such failures. Rarely are those who create the problems held accountable.

Consider those detained in Riverside County jails who are dying often without explanation and rarely is anyone held accountable. And then, there are the continuing stream of settlements related to office misconduct including $77M in settlements in recent years. Meanwhile, across the county failures of administration are rampant. For example, a school district settles sex abuse lawsuit with 10 elementary school children for $13.7 million; Turnover, high caseloads hinder child protective services, Riverside County grand jury says; Residents confront officials after probe finds Riverside County ‘failed’ 13 Turpin siblings and the list goes on.

A similar trend holds true in San Bernardino County. Inmates are dying, investigations are pending while the county also settles suits for police misconduct. In one case earlier this year the county agreed to pay $4.5 million to the family of man shot by sheriff deputies. Meanwhile, like Riverside County, San Bernardino taxpayers are victims of the same “settlements for government failures” way of life with little public accountability. For example, San Bernardino County recently settled a foster child sexual abuse case for $7.8 million; the county settled a $640,000 lawsuit with a former top executive; the county settled a 2019 lawsuit that alleged it made it “unnecessarily difficult” to apply for General Relief Funds; San Bernardino County, California Sheriff’s Office Settles Civil Rights Suit, and  just like in Riverside County, the list goes on.

Inland Empire counties settle large suits on an ongoing basis almost as if it was a normal part of doing business. But is it? And if it is, should it be? I think most would agree an occasional misstep is to be expected but an ongoing pattern of  poor practices is not. 

The relationship between public officials and the public is considered by scholars as fiduciary in nature.“Because fiduciaries are difficult to monitor and have wide access to power over beneficiary resources and assets, fiduciaries are under rigorous obligations that ensure compliance with their role responsibilities.”

David Ponet and Ethan Lieb

And it now seems one of San Bernardino County’s multimillion dollar settlements may not be fully resolved.

About two years ago the county agreed to pay Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum $65 million to settle a civil case associated with criminal charges brought against him stemming from the infamous $102 million Colonies settlement related Burum’s Colonies development in Rancho Cucamonga. The county’s $102 million dollar settlement eventually resulted in criminal charges against Burum and others that did not hold up in court resulting in a subsequent suit by Burum and the Colonies Partners Investors group he leads against the county that led to the $65 million dollar settlement two years ago that is now in question. 

Ironshore Specialty Insurance, a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual, that insures the county filed an insurance coverage lawsuit against San Bernardino in late August. The claim was filed  in the state’s Central District Court. The suit, seeks a declaration that Ironshore has no duty to defend, indemnify or reimburse the county in connection with six underlying malicious prosecution lawsuits which the county settled for $69 million. 

Ironshore claims the county entered into the settlement agreement without its consent. It also asserts that the 2011 prosecutions against Burum and others were part of a “conspiracy to retaliate against the Colonies II Plaintiffs as part of a decades-long dispute over land and water rights in Upland [which resulted in the initial $102 million settlement] culminating in a malicious prosecution of Burum.”

How the the insurer’s action against the county will ultimately resolve is yet to be determined and is just the latest chapter in the Colonies saga that has dragged on for 20 years. Every action and reaction over this extensive period has cost taxpayers untold amounts in legal fees that will only become publicly available when the cases come to final closure. 

According to a report by insurancenewsnet.com, no matter how the issue resolves Ironshore is not responsible for the full $69 million settlement. Its policy with the county is only for payments above $52.5 million. As a result, if Ironshore loses it will be required to pay $16.5 million for the settlement. On the other hand however, if Ironshore is successful, county taxpayers will be left accountable for this amount. 

Sixteen million nine hundred dollars may be just another check written to correct leadership and system failures by San Bernardino officials like the laundry lists detailed above. But, $16.9 million is a lot of money to residents in a county like San Bernardino where the poverty rate is higher than state and national averages. Certainly $16.9 million dollars could be better used to feed those in local food deserts, house the county’s homeless, and/or dozens of other worthy endeavors to help empower local residents. 

This case also highlights the need for accountability mentioned earlier in this piece. Where is the accountability for this 20 year fiasco? What has changed in planning commission procedures to ensure such complications over land and water rights are avoided in relation to future developments or has the county just been lucky over the past 20 years? As climate change and drought continue to impact water supplies, issues related to water rights become more critical. The community deserves answers to these questions. 

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

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S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Stephanie has received awards for her investigative reporting and for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.