Friends With Benefits

Posted September 24, 2009 in News

At this point, you’d think scandal-steeped San Bernardino County would stay far away from even the appearance of evil. Former Assessor Bill Postmus stands neck deep in it, accused of frittering away taxpayers’ time and money to run a political machine from his office. Supervisors are squabbling over how to handle the fallout of an ongoing investigation. Even DA Mike Ramos is being dragged into things after a sexual harassment complaint from a former employee surfaced.


Common wisdom would dictate that county officials now have plenty of incentive to make sure their dealings from here on out are above reproach, far removed from even the merest whiff of impropriety.


Guess again.


Last week, the Board of Supervisors approved a $150,000 contract to a Rancho Cucamonga-based think tank to help prepare the county’s annual State of the County address in February. Harmless? Maybe.


The contract went to the La Jolla Institute without the benefit of competitive bidding—a safeguard that government agencies employ to make sure politicians aren’t giving their buddies all the sweetheart deals. Heck, even Obama hollered against no-bid contracts because too often it meant public dollars ended up with “politically well-connected companies,” according to a Senate report.


The waters are muddied even further in San Bernardino County’s case; one of La Jolla’s board of directors, one Steve PonTell,  just happens to be a good friend of Supervisor Gary Ovitt. It was Ovitt who—surprise, surprise—pushed to bypass the normal protocol for awarding contracts and go down the no-bid route. But it’s all in the name of saving time and money, says the county. Besides, the La Jolla Institute is the best man for the job.


So run the arguments from Ovitt’s camp, which defends the no-bid contract. 


“We knew they could do the work and had the track record of doing the work,” says Ovitt spokesman Burt Southard.


Southard says speed is of the essence because work needs to get ready in time for the State of the County report early next year.


“The timeframe is critical, in terms of trying to get a good product out by February,” he says.


However, Southard concedes that some would raise questions about awarding such contract without having other companies take a stab at it, saying “we knew that we would take a shot from somebody.”


This is not the first time Ovitt has said no-thanks to competitive contracts for projects; more than $800,000 has gone to contracts to benefit Chino Airport and attract business there. 


La Jolla will be tasked to gather information for a “Community Indicators Report” that will be used to “measure the overall quality of life in San Bernardino County.”


Overall quality of life? Apparently, cutting ethical and procedural corners remain the norm, not the exception.


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