The recent revelation that San Bernardino County Human Resources Director Andrew Lamberto was arrested and convicted of Penal Code section 647(b)—Engage, and agree to engage, in prostitution—and the handling of the situation by San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux brought to the forefront the issues caused by the non-interference clause enacted by the county’s Board of Supervisors in 2010. Devereaux used the clause to keep supervisors in the dark about what proved to be one of the most embarrassing incidents in the county’s recent history.
When Devereaux was appointed as County Administrative Officer in 2010, the board approved a contract that does not allow him to be terminated except under the most egregious circumstances. The requirements the board must go through to fire Devereaux are similar to that of removing an elected official.
The provision for removal in Devereaux’s contract reads:
Notwithstanding the foregoing, this Contract may be terminated at any time by Contractor by the giving of fourteen (14) days written notice of termination to the County. The County may by a four fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors terminate this Contract for cause at any time.
For the purpose of this Contract, cause shall be defined as: (1) flagrant or repeated neglect of duties, after Contractor has been notified in writing of such neglect and provided thirty (30) days to correct the deficiencies; (2) willful misappropriation of public property; (3) willful and substantial violation of law related to the performance of the Contractor’s duties; (4) willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document; or (5) failure to follow the clear direction of the Board of Supervisors given in a duly noticed meeting.
Under Section 6 of Article II of the Charter of the County of San Bernardino, supervisors can remove any county elected official other than a county supervisor. That would include the sheriff, district attorney, assessor, and auditor-controller. The charter states:
Any County officer other than supervisor may be removed from office in the manner provided by law; also any such officer may be removed by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors, for cause, after first serving upon such officer a written statement of alleged grounds for such removal, and giving him a reasonable opportunity to be heard in the way of explanation or defense.
As you can see, there is little difference. It should be noted that the county code allows the county administrative officer serves at the pleasure of the board of supervisors and can be terminated on a three-fifths vote without cause. Devreaux’s contract is in conflict with county ordinances.
But it got worse. Only months after hiring Devereaux with an airtight contract, the board voted to enact a non-interference clause. Chapter 1, Section 12.0103 reads:
Except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, the Board of Supervisors, as the governing board of the County, retains full authority to take any and all official action authorized for the governance of the County. Except, no member of the Board of Supervisors nor any member of his or her staff shall give orders to or instruct the subordinates of the Chief Executive Officer, either publicly or privately.
In other words, when the county board of supervisors hired Devereaux, they made it next to impossible to fire him. Then they transferred their power to him with the non-interference clause. The net result has been a county run by an unelected government bureaucrat who sets policy for the board of supervisors rather than the other way around. Voters have little say in how the county is governed because Devereaux is not accountable to voters, and those that are elected to provide oversight have tied their own hands behind their backs.
Since the Lamberto incident, board members have been quick to claim they are the ones in charge. But the fallout from the debacle proves otherwise. Devereaux continues to run the show with the county supervisors nothing but puppets on a string with Devereaux as the puppet master.