Posted May 28, 2009 in News

An ongoing probe and lawsuit over political misconduct and abuse within the San Bernardino County assessor’s office could be seen as a not-too-gentle reminder of that old idiom the pot calling the kettle black. You see, Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez is one of six former assessor officials who stand accused of defrauding taxpayers and using the office for political gain.


Specifically, Gutierrez, 49, was paid a five-figure salary for a job (“intergovernmental affairs officer”) he rarely showed up for or did, according to a report by county-hired attorney John C. Hueston. In fact, this report concluded that Gutierrez, who is serving his fourth term on the Rancho council, routinely conducted city work while on the county’s dime and his attendance was so spotty and irregular, he was nicknamed the “intergalactic officer.”


Overpaid for doing little work? Sounds familiar. It’s the same charge Gutierrez blasted at Rancho Cucamonga firefighters during the November 2006 city council election.


“I have tried very hard to please these guys,” Gutierrez wrote on his campaign blog. “Their salaries are the highest in the city, with total compensation well into the six figures.”


He further railed against firefighter union members “who insist on making more money than even the White House chief of staff ($150,000)! All for working 10 days a month. THAT’S IMMORAL!”


Now the issue of morally questionable behavior by public servants has arisen over Gutierrez’s stint under former Assessor Bill Postmus.


Gutierrez, along with Postmus and others “engaged in blatant misconduct and abused county resources,” Hueston’s report states. “Among other things, individuals received jobs for which they were unqualified, submitted timecards for more hours than they actually worked and engaged in inappropriate activities on the rare occasion they appeared at work.”


“Much of the misconduct is legally actionable,” the report adds, which is legalese for “go ahead and sue.” And the county set out to do just that. County lawyers are now trying to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost due to the misconduct allegedly committed by Gutierrez and Co. (former assistant assessors Jim Erwin and Adam Aleman, former assessor employee Greg Eyler and former contractor Mike Richman).


According to Hueston—one of the prosecutors of the Enron trial—Gutierrez spent less than 10 percent of his time on assessor-related work in 2007 and didn’t do any work in 2008—yet still got paid up to $70,000.


Gutierrez has denied all the allegations, saying he is the target of character assassination by Hueston and his investigation.


“Mr. Hueston was paid to paint the worst possible light on the Assessor’s Office,” Gutierrez told the Daily Bulletin.


Gutierrez did not respond to repeated email and phone requests for interviews.


Some of Gutierrez’s fellow council members have urged that he resign. Gutierrez is up for re-election in 2010.


“As a taxpayer and as a public official, I find the activities detailed in the [Hueston] report deeply disturbing,” County Supervisor Gary C. Ovitt said May 12 when officials authorized a lawsuit to proceed.


Gutierrez’s political doings have been questioned before. In 1998, he resigned from the council after it was determined it was a conflict-of-interest for the politician to seek advertisements from businesses with city contracts. At the time and currently, Gutierrez ran a community newsletter.


Another blast from the councilman’s past conjures up further irony in light of the recent county scandal. 


During the ‘06 election, Gutierrez turned conspiracy-monger when he criticized what he described as a city council taken over by firefighter-endorsed candidates.

 “For the first time, majority control of our city council could go to one powerful special interest group—the fire union,” he blogged.


Local government corrupted by a political special interest group? Sound familiar? Sounds like a Hueston report prequel.


But let’s be clear that those accused of political malfeasance are only human.


In one of his editorials from his newsletter, Gutierrez muses about human nature. “I’ve always wondered what makes us the men and women that we are. What makes us a hero? What makes us a villain? . . . When, and under what circumstances, do we lose our integrity? Did we have integrity to begin with?”


Good questions. The answers might be even better.


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