Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by BVN
Gail Fry | IE Voice News Contributor
Just two years ago, on November 3, 2020, Measure K was overwhelmingly approved by voters in San Bernardino County when 77% of them agreed to reduce the monthly salaries of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors (BOS) to $5,000 a month, or $60,000 a year and place strict term limits on their service as supervisors.
The salary change would make board supervisors’ compensation more in line with the annual median income of county residents ($67,903). The measure also called for the implementation of a one-term, lifetime limit on their service to the public as county supervisors.
The board of supervisors responded to the successful passage of Measure K by initiating a court battle and with the ultimate drafting of Measure D.
Motivation behind Measure K
Thomas Murphy, who spoke on behalf of the Red Brennan Group, a 501(c)(4) non-profit social welfare organization that backed the measure, explained that Measure K’s purpose was to encourage a candidate who truly wanted to serve the public.
The one-term, lifetime limit to serve as county supervisor was designed to eliminate the power of special interests in the county to manipulate a county supervisor. Murphy explained that this is because the supervisor would no longer have the thought of or motivation to raise campaign funds for their re-election, which typically requires substantial campaign contributions from special interests – usually those with business before the county board of supervisors.
As to the decrease in compensation provision of Measure K, Murphy said members of the San Bernardino County of Board of Supervisors currently make above $250,000 a year in total compensation, and reducing that to $60,000 total compensation a year could attract a different type of elected representative, someone who just wanted to help his community, and wasn’t into it for a large paycheck.
Superior Court ruling
On December 2, 2020, the San Bernardino County (SBC) BOS challenged Measure K in court, filing a Petition for Mandate and Complaint. BOS asked the San Bernardino Superior Court to overturn Measure K, claiming it was unconstitutional, legally invalid, and unenforceable.
The Brennan Group and its advocate, Nadia Renner, came to the defense of Measure K retaining attorneys and fighting back in court against the SBC BOS in a legal battle that reached the state’s Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeals.
After arguments, testimony, and evidence presented at the San Bernardino Superior Court, Judge Donald Alvarez found Measure K’s provision setting a one-term lifetime limit for supervisors violated the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U. S. Constitution. He further ruled that the compensation provision could not be separated from the remainder of Measure K, and that the measure could not be implemented.
Appellate Court ruling
In their appeal, Red Brennan Group – through Renner – told the Court of Appeals that the San Bernardino Superior Court erred in its decision that Measure K was unconstitutional. Renner argued that the one-term, lifetime limit was constitutional, and the compensation limit can be made separate from the measure.
In contrast, the SBC BOS argued that supervisors’ compensation cannot be set by initiative (Measure K) and that the limit violates minimum wage laws. It further argued the Measure could result in part-time work thus impairing essential governmental functions, and that Measure K attempts to override San Bernardino County Code section 13.0614, which provides for supervisors’ compensation.
On July 12, the Court of Appeals issued its tentative opinion finding the one-term limit is constitutional, and that supervisors’ compensation can be set by initiative.
However, the Court of Appeals’ tentative opinion is not yet final. A date will be set by the court for oral arguments prior to the issuance of its final opinion.
The birth of Measure D
“When they recognized they would likely lose in court, [we believe] they [BOS]worked with Assemblymember [Chad] Mayes to pass Assembly Bill 428, which provided that supervisors would have at least two terms and giving the board of supervisors the power to set their own compensation, and then they concocted Measure D,” Murphy said.
Campaign finance records reveal that a year before the Appellate Court decision in July 2021, money was being raised for a political campaign to create Measure D, alternatively restoring the higher salaries, and multiple terms in office and providing supervisors with the ability to serve an additional 16 years.
Donors to two committees, Good Government San Bernardino and People United for Fairness, both of which support Measure D, include elected officials (First District County Supervisor Paul Cook), Paul Cook for Supervisor 2024; (Third District County Supervisor Dawn Rowe), Dawn Rowe for Supervisor 2024; (Fourth District County Supervisor Curt Hagman), Hagman for Supervisor 2022; (former Fifth District County Supervisor Josie Gonzales), Josie Gonzalez for Assessor 2022; 42nd District Assemblyperson Chad Mayes, (Chad Mays for Assembly 2022); and Citizens for Warren (Mayor of Fontana).
In San Bernardino County, is neutral really neutral?
While the County of San Bernardino is required to be neutral with regard to measures on the ballot, elected officials, outside their official capacity, have a first amendment right to express their position, and contribute campaign funds to support this or any measure.
Other donors contributing to support Measure D include former San Bernardino County CEO Gregory Devereaux, real estate development companies such as Jeffrey S. Burum Enterprises (Jeffrey S. Burum), FH II Homebuilders, Inc. (Jim Previti, Richard Blair Munkvold), The Crossing at Redlands, LLC. (Jim Mauge), DW Development (David Weiner), Building Industry Association of Southern California (an association that advocates for building industry leaders), Cadiz, Inc. (a company owning a natural aquifer to store, distribute water in the Mojave Desert), Burrtec Industries, Inc. (trash service company), and Athens Services (trash service company), to name a few.
Local politicians failure to respond
On Friday, October 21, 2022, The IE Voice and Black Voice News sent emails to elected officials First District County Supervisor Cook, Third District County Supervisor Rowe, Fourth District County Supervisor Hagman, and Assemblymember Mayes’ offices requesting their responses to the following questions:
Why do you feel this Measure will benefit the County of San Bernardino and its taxpayers? Why do you think a substantial salary increase for our county supervisors would benefit the County of San Bernardino and its taxpayers? Why do you think having the term limit for candidates in San Bernardino County reset, allowing current public officials to serve several more terms in office addition, would benefit the County of San Bernardino and its taxpayers?
As of press time, we received no responses from SBC supervisors Cook, Rowe, Hagman, or Assemblyperson Mayes.
The Yes on Measure D website states that Measure D will make San Bernardino County “more affordable” and would “protect San Bernardino County residents and give them the strongest voice in our levels of taxation” and “Measure D is pro-senior, pro-worker, and pro-taxpayer” while also claiming “we can’t afford more taxes” when Measure D would actually increase taxes on taxpayers by raising supervisors’ salaries from $60,000 to total compensation to over $250,000 a year.
An important history lesson
Murphy said that in 2010, the SBC BOS appointed a full-time Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Greg Devereaux, someone with the professional knowledge and ability to analyze the issues before the board of supervisors answer any questions, allowing supervisors to make well-informed decisions. Chief Executive Officer Leonard X. Hernandez currently holds that position.
When Devereaux was appointed in 2010, the late Kiernan “Red” Brennan, a resident and active member of the Wrightwood community, realized the county supervisors had just off-loaded a substantial amount of their responsibilities onto the CEO, wondering, “Why is [a board supervisor] still a full-time position?”
Brennan believed the County supervisors delegated much of their authority to a non-elected Chief Executive Officer and as a result, felt there was no need to pay the elected officials a full-time salary with benefits.
In 2012, Mr. Brennan sponsored the “Compensation Limits and Budget Reductions for Members of the County Board of Supervisors” known as “Measure R.” Measure R passed, but was replaced by Measure Q, keeping in place the higher salaries of county supervisors.
Kiernan “Red” Brennan was active on the Wrightwood Village Council, the Municipal Advisory Council, and the Wrightwood Property Owners’ Association, and served on the San Bernardino County Grand Jury. After Kiernan “Red” Brennan passed away in 2013, Red Brennan Group was formed and named in his honor.
The Red Brennan Group
The Red Brennan Group was formed to continue with Brennan’s goal of limiting the growth of government by adjusting the incentives to serve.
Murphy explained that his mission is to support big-hearted communities, and small government, less is more approach. Murphy is envisioning a small business owner potentially being elected as a county supervisor with staff involved in the day-to-day meetings, and interactions allowing a supervisor to work part-time.
Our goal, Murphy shared, was to remove the influence of money in local politics, explaining that career politicians, having a different motivation and perspective, are failing to meet the needs of the people.
Campaign finance records reveal Red Brennan Group’s backing of the committee Vote No on Measure D with a campaign contribution from Eric Steinmann in the amount of $24,184.90 with an address in Jacksonville, Florida. Other records indicate Steinmann having a post office box in Wrightwood. Murphy said another backer of Red Brennan Group is Chris River, a libertarian, who resides in Northern California.
This will gut the pay-to-play environment that drives county politics today, Murphy believes, providing the example of developer Jeffrey S. Burum, a lead voice in support of Measure D, who recently received a $64 million legal settlement approved by the county supervisors, which in turn, Murphy claims, became campaign contributions to supervisors. Burum’s name may sound familiar in relation to his development company’s involvement with the epic Colonies case.
Murphy asked people to pay attention, pointing out the alleged deceptive wording of Measure D, where its authors pretend to provide taxpayers’ protection from tax increases, when those protections are already secured for them in the California Constitution. Murphy warned, “This suspicious use of the local political system threatens the rights and liberties of a free people.”