Derry’s Redlands Council Run Draws $100,000 In Opposition

(October 29) Neil Derry’s attempt to stage a political comeback has garnered the most energetic opposition campaign in San Bernardino County during the current political season, one that indeed rivals the hardest political counterattacks in the history of local politics.
In recent years, only a handful of individual city/town council campaigns have involved expenditures of upwards of $50,000. In Redlands this year, where Derry is seeking to reestablish himself with voters after a mercurial decade with his hand on the helms of the county’s two largest governmental jurisdictions, he has garnered the enmity of two groups who have in the last several months put up and expended approaching $100,000 to keep Derry from assuming a position on the city council there.
A former Marine and a Republican, Derry landed a job as a field representative for Fred Aguiar. After Aguiar left the Statehouse, Derry found work in the public relations division of Southern California Edison. While there he ventured into politics on his own, successfully seeking election to the San Bernardino City Council in 2004.
In 2008, Derry ran successfully for county supervisor in the Third District, dislodging the incumbent, Dennis Hansberger, another Republican who had served as Third District Supervisor for 20 years over the previous 38 years. Hansberger was a firm fixture in the Redlands political establishment, which for nearly a century had dominated San Bernardino County politics. Though Derry resided on the eastern side of the city of San Bernardino and thus was geographically rooted in the Third District, much of his financial backing in the 2008 election was provided by the nouveau riche entrepreneurs on the western end of the county, development, commercial and professional interests in Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and Upland. Derry’s victory against Hansberger, himself a Republican and the scion of wealthy developer Leroy Hansberger, represented a changing of the guard and what was for the time seen as the eclipse of Old Money and the Old Order.
For a time, at least, Derry progressed upward, forming what proved to be relatively short-lived ruling coalitions on the board of supervisors, first with then-Second District Supervisor Paul Biane and Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt and later with then-First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, like Derry a former Marine. The major achievements during his first two and a half years as supervisor included the passage of a county sunshine ordinance and the ouster, in a 3-2 vote that included Derry’s and those of supervisors Ovitt and Mitzelfelt, of Mark Uffer as county administrative officer and his replacement by Greg Devereaux, upon whom was conferred the title of county chief executive officer.
In March 2011, however, former county First District Supervisor and county assessor Bill Postmus, who had pleaded to 14 felony charges relating to a political corruption scandal, told investigators with the district attorney’s office that in 2007, during the run-up to the 2008 election he used his political action committee, Inland Empire PAC, to launder a $5,000 campaign contribution to Derry from Highland developer Arnold Stubblefield. Stubblefield, Postmus said, had been reluctant to contribute directly to Derry in 2007 because at that point, Derry was not yet in office and was challenging the incumbent, Hansberger. Postmus combined the $5,000 he had received from Stubblefield with $5,000 of his own political funds to make a $10,000 contribution from his political action committee to Derry. Derry had reported the money as coming from the political action committee rather than Stubblefield.
District attorney Mike Ramos, who was a member in good standing of the same Redlands political machine in which Hansberger was involved, forwarded the information amassed by his investigators to the California Attorney General’s Office, which in April 2011 initially charged Derry with two felonies – filing a forged or false document and perjury – and with misdemeanor filing of a false campaign report. Four months later, Derry, through his attorney, Raj Maline, stuck a plea arrangement by which the felonies were dropped and he pleaded no contest to the campaign reporting violation.
That plea figured prominently in the campaign former San Manuel Tribal Council President James Ramos waged against Derry the following year. In November 2012, staggering under the onslaught of Ramos’s repetitive charges that Derry had engaged in political money laundering, Derry was voted off the board after having served a single term as supervisor.
Two years later, Derry, who had moved to Redlands in 2009, tossed his hat in the ring for a position on the Redlands, challenging  incumbents Paul Foster and Jon Harrison. The field is rounded out by Paul Barich, Jane Dreher and John Montgomery.  A seventh candidate, Tabetha Wittenmyer, dropped out of the race, but too late for her name to be taken off the ballot.
While Redlands City Council races in the past have occasionally been spirited ones, they have generally not involved huge monetary expenditures. Derry’s venture into the race, however, in the gentrified municipality that is host to one of the oldest and largest affluent neighborhoods in the county – Smiley Heights – where generations of the county’s movers and shakers had gravitated and where the vestiges of the Redlands Political Establishment remain, galvanized the opposition. In the last two-and-a-half months, the political machine that put Mike Ramos, a Republican, into office as district attorney in 2002 and saw him reelected again in 2006, 2010 and earlier this year, and which crossed party lines to elect James Ramos, a Democrat, as supervisor in 2012 has reinitiated operations, functioning in the guise of two independent expenditure committees, the California Homeowners PAC and  Redlands Residents Against Corruption, Opposing Neil Derry for City Council, 2014.
The California Homeowners PAC is based in Willows, California (i.e., Northern California). Redlands Residents Against Corruption, Opposing Neil Derry for City Council, 2014 is based in Redlands.
Reggie King, chairman and CEO of Young Homes in Rancho Cucamonga, contributed $20,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC on September 24 and $20,000 to Redlands Residents Against Corruption, Opposing Neil Derry for City Council on September 26.
James Ramos gave $1,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. Vanessa Ramos, a member of the San Manuel Tribe gave $6,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. Theresa Ramos, a member of the San Manuel Tribe, gave $6,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. Desiree Ramos, a member of the San Manuel Tribe, gave $1,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. Alaina Mathews, a member of the San Manuel Tribe, gave $5,250 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. In addition, Josie Gonzales, who served on the board of supervisors with Derry and is now on the board with Ramos, donated $1,000 to the California Homeowners Association PAC. The California Homeowners Association PAC received $49,750 from Fieldstead & Co. in Irvine and $49,750 from The Tait Family Trust in Santa Ana. It provide $48,000 to Taxpayers For Ethical Government, an effort targeting Derry, on September 15. It also spent $10,704.50 on a direct mail campaign against Derry.
The group calling itself Redlands Residents Against Corruption, Opposing Neil Derry for City Council 2014, has amassed more than $40,000.
Derry this week told the Sentinel that his continuing political ambition and the suggestions of others “who requested that I consider running or asked me to run is what made me to decide to give it a shot. I have a background as an open government type of guy and I take the facts and try to make a decision without personal animus. I believe I can do the right things for Redlands. In the last few years the city has engaged in some controversial actions. They have used trash fees to pay for roads. They have considered tax measures for flood control. I don’t think any of that was appropriate. They have been able to operate outside of much media scrutiny or any scrutiny at all. I think we need to open the books on these decisions. I pushed through a sunshine ordinance at the county. A lot of people consider that to be important. People who live here and are doing business in the city want to know that business is not being done behind the scenes and behind closed doors. Decisions need to be made with public input.”
Derry said he was highly conscious of the campaign that was being run specifically against him.
“That kind of money being spent in a campaign, particularly against a single candidate, is unprecedented in Redlands,” Derry said. “Sixty to 65 percent of the money is coming from the San Manuel Tribe. Another major portion of the money is coming from a developer who was very close to Bill Postmus. You have members of the board of the Redlands Centennial Bank, who ran that institution into the ground and bankrupted a lot of people in this community, who are involved in funding the effort against me. There is a lot of vindictiveness involved. There is a lot of personal politics involved. You have a member of the board of supervisors,” Derry said, in reference to James Ramos, “who is taking a very active role in Redlands politics. I have tried to run a positive campaign. I have been talking about where the city needs to go. I’ve been knocking on doors, talking to people about what is important to them.  This campaign should be about the future of the city and what is best for its residents. Unfortunately, it has become about personalities.”
In addition to infusing the political action committees standing in opposition to Derry, James Ramos is among the most substantial donors to the campaign funds for Barich and the incumbents Foster and Harrison. The Harrison committee also received $1,000 from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, of which Ramos was formerly chairman. Not coincidentally, it seems, Harrison and Foster have proven to be the two candidates in the race most critical of Derry. Both have denied that the money provided to them by the tribe and James Ramos have had any impact on their political opposition to Derry.
For his part, Derry sought to avoid being pointedly critical of the others in the electoral field,
“I believe all of the candidates in the race are well intentioned,” he said. “I am not angling my campaign at any one of them. I think the voters’ analysis should go to an evaluation of experience and effectiveness. Mr. Foster and Mr Harrison are asking for four more years. I think some of the programs the current council has been involved with are a little misguided. I think the city is spinning its wheels with its sustainability ordinance. Mr. Montgomery is a businessman who has had to deal with the city’s regulation and code enforcement in his business venture. That makes him very aware of some of the issues that are hurting the city. Mr. Barich has built a successful business. Ms. Dreher has had experience in the public sector as a spokesperson with SANBAG, the county’s transportation agency. I believe that my experience in government, in the private sector and in public relations matches or exceeds that of all of my opponents  Any one of them brings to the table something. I have had experience in dealing with local issues. I am not challenging any one of them, but I would say, hey look at what I have accomplished at several levels. I think my knowing what to do and in many cases what not to do could be very valuable to the city of Redlands.”

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