Mitzelfelt’s Hiring Of Anderson Raises Specter Of Backroom Deal

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who is now vying for election to Congress in the recently redrawn California 8th Congressional District, finds himself beset with accusations that he sought to improperly influence the race to succeed him.
The situation was touched off by a report of a backroom deal by which Mitzelfelt allegedly convinced a candidate in many quarters perceived as the frontrunner in the upcoming First District supervisor contest to drop out.
In February, Ken Anderson inexplicably withdrew as a candidate to succeed Mitzelfelt as supervisor, despite having leapt to an impressive advantage over more than a half dozen other hopefuls. Anderson boasted an impressive resumé, including success in the private sector and positions of responsibility and trust within local and state government. He developed and sold at a profit a strip mall, currently owns a hardware store in Phelan and with members of his family at one time operated a string of four other  hardware stores in Apple Valley, Barstow,  Hesperia and  Lancaster.  He had completed stints on the county planning commission and as a board member of the Phelan Piñon Hills Community Services District, was a field representative for state Senator Sharon Runner and a community liaison for Mitzelfelt. He declared his candidacy on January 12 and to all appearances seemed to be making strides toward capturing the office.  In late January and early February he had pulled down the endorsements of Sharon Runner, that of her husband George Runner, who had previously served 12 years in the State Legislature representing portions of the High Desert and is now an elected member of the California State Board of Equalization, as well as that of Steve Knight, Assemblyman for California’s 36th District. Donors and backers of all sorts were signing on in support of his campaign, which was switching into high gear under the guidance of Lovella Sullivan, a professional campaign consultant.
But with his political fortunes racing upward, against the advice of several of his closest associates and his campaign committee, he pulled out of the race, crossing up dozens of supporters who just days and weeks before he had been entreating to assist him in his electoral effort.
At the Spring Valley Lake Country Club on February 28 during a lunch meeting of the Hi-Desert Republicans Women Federated where many had gathered to hear what they anticipated would be a fiery and aggressive campaign speech touching on his vision for the High Desert’s future, Anderson dashed the crowd’s expectations, saying, “I just don’t feel in my heart at this time that I am able to continue.”
He offered no more than that in his explanation of his withdrawal, befuddling and frustrating those who had lined up in support of him and his candidacy. The exact reason for his decision remained a mystery.
This week, on Tuesday April 10, the issue of his withdrawal from the supervisor’s race returned when Mitzelfelt succeeded in getting his colleagues to ratify his hiring of Anderson to serve as his field representative.
Almost immediately, it was widely bruited around the county that Mitzelfelt and Anderson had brokered some order of a backroom deal to have Anderson end his candidacy in exchange for the job Mitzelfelt arranged for him to take this week. There were suggestions that this was calculated to benefit Mitzelfelt’s run for Congress either directly or indirectly by assisting one of the other candidates in the supervisor race with whom Mitzelfelt has political backers in common.
While many cynically found Anderson’s acceptance of the position to be a satisfactory explication of Anderson’s abrupt withdrawal from the race in February, others, including many of his one-time backers, found it both troubling and disappointing.
Many remained baffled at his willingness to surrender a legitimate shot at becoming supervisor in return for a job that promises to be relatively short-lived. Mitzelfelt will remain as First District supervisor only into December, at which time, presumably, his staff will be supplanted by a new one chosen by the incoming supervisor.
The position Anderson was hired into, field representative, provides an annual salary of $64,561 together with benefits of $62,180 per year. One of the benefits is the provision of health benefits for Anderson’s family.
Given Anderson’s financial circumstance, including complete ownership of a hardware store in Phelan and his profitable sale two years ago of a strip mall he developed and owned, observers questioned why Anderson was willing to trade down from the possibility of capturing the supervisor’s post to holding a lesser position that would last no more than seven months.
Questions attained, as well, to the legality of any arrangement that was made in a deal between Mitzelfelt and Anderson pertaining to Anderson’s withdrawal from the supervisor’s race.
Two sections of the California Elections Code, 18205 and 18523, appear to prohibit any type of deal that would dissuade a candidate from running for office.
Elections Code Section 18205 states: “A person shall not directly or through any other person advance, pay, solicit, or receive or cause to be advanced, paid, solicited, or received, any money or other valuable consideration to or for the use of any person in order to induce a person not to become or to withdraw as a candidate for public office. Violation of this section shall be punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months or two or three years.”
Elections Code Section 18523 states: “A person shall not directly or through any other person advance or pay, or cause to be paid, any money or other valuable thing to or for the use of any other person, with the intent that it, or any part thereof, shall be used in bribery at any election, or knowingly pay or cause to be paid any money or other valuable thing to any person in discharge or repayment of any money, wholly or in part, expended in bribery at any election. Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months or two or three years.”
Anderson’s contract to serve as a field representative in the First District was reviewed by deputy county counsel Kenneth Hardy. That review, however did not look into the California Elections Code 18205 and 18523 implications, according to San Bernardino County’s public information officer, David Wert.
“I spoke with Mr. Hardy,” Wert said. “County counsel review of such items is only to ensure that the contract language adheres to legal form. County counsel does not concern itself with the appointing authority’s decision-making process in offering a position to one person as opposed to another.”
Wert did add that “Neither Mr. Hardy nor I are aware of any kind of investigation related to this.”
Anderson told the Sentinel that those seeing or attempting to draw a nexus between his decision to drop out of the race and Mitzelfelt’s decision to hire him “are barking up the wrong tree. I can tell you they are two complete separate things.”
Anderson acknowledged that as a candidate he “had a lot of support from the community,” but stopped short of agreeing to a characterization of himself as the frontrunner, saying such a description was a “compliment.” He said there were reasons why he had departed from the running and that “People saying there was a trade there doesn’t make any sense. I made a personal choice not to run.”
He declined to disclose what his precise rationale was. “I don’t want to say at this time,” he said. “I made a personal decision together with my wife, as I stated at the time. The decision was made a long time before it was announced.”
Anderson said. “This opportunity [going to work as Mitzelfelt’s field representative] came up completely separately.”
Mitzelfelt told the Sentinel there is no substance to the rumors of a backroom deal and that he neither encouraged Anderson to withdraw his candidacy nor offered him any inducement in the way of a position with his office to do so.
“I did not discuss that with him,” Mitzelfelt said.
Mitzelfelt said he hired Anderson “because he has done great work for my office in the past and he was available.”
He said the timing of Anderson’s hiring came about because “My assessment of the work volume in my district office was that I needed an additional field representative. He was available and willing and already a part-time member of my staff. Ken has worked for the First District on a basically volunteer basis for more than a year and has proven to be an amazing asset in assisting constituents and handling issues,” Mitzelfelt said. “As a business owner and an active participant in local government and numerous community groups, Ken brings a depth of knowledge about High Desert issues, along with a can-do attitude and organizational skills that will serve our constituents well.  Ken’s business experience and familiarity with local government makes him uniquely qualified to work on a variety of issues with terrific perspective from both the private and public sector.”
Joseph Fahrlender, with whom Anderson served on the board of directors of the Phelan Piñon Hills Community Services District and who was among his most ardent supporters as a candidate for supervisor, said he too was taken aback when Anderson dropped out of the race.
“I was upset and he heard everything I had to say for a day or two,” Fahrlender said. “There were a bunch of us, and we were saying, ‘Are you nuts? If you stay in this, you’ll win.’ But in the end, he said he found out that he is just not a politician. He would be in a room with all these people who expected something of him or wanted something from him and what he wanted to do was accomplish things and work at it and not just have to sit around all the time. He came to realize that would be what he would be doing on a weekly basis. I know it’s hard to understand in this world where everyone wants to be top dog but that is not what he wanted to do. At first he thought of himself as a politician but after he took a run at it he found out he wasn’t really cut out for it. He figures he can do a better job working for someone else, going out to find the answers and really working instead of shaking everyone’s hand and trying to please everybody by making a bunch of empty promises.”

Leave a Reply