Muñoz Set To Challenge Ramos In 2016 Election

MORONGO VALLEY — (June 11) Donna Muñoz, who was once considered to be a key member of Third District Supervisor James Ramos’s staff, will seek to unseat him in the 2016 election.
Muñoz, a longtime resident of the Morongo Basin who has served in both elected and appointed capacities with several governmental entities there as well as in other parts of the county, is the first challenger to emerge against Ramos, who defeated incumbent Third District supervisor Neil Derry in 2012.
San Bernardino County’s Third District covers a large span of territory, extending all the way from Barstow at the district’s northwest extreme, through the eastern portion of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Morongo Basin and the most populated portion of the district, which involves Highland, Yucaipa, Redlands, Mentone, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace and the eastern portion of the city of San Bernardino.
Muñoz began her participation in governmental affairs nearly three decades ago when she was a field representative for Marsha Turoci, the First District county supervisor from 1988 to 1996, when the Morongo Valley was contained within the First District. She was later a field representative for Third District Supervisor Barbara Cram Riordan, after the Morongo Valley was moved into the Third District as a consequence of redistricting. She worked in the county assessor’s office, rising to the position of assistant assessor under former assessor Don Williamson. She is also a longtime member of the Morongo Unified School District Board of Trustees. After his election to the board in 2012, James Ramos hired Muñoz as a field representative. In February 2014, she resigned from that post when she was hired as the Morongo Valley Community Services District’s general manager.
There appears to be something, or several things, quixotic about Muñoz’s challenge of Ramos. First, she is reluctant to criticize Ramos, refusing to make a case for removing him from office. Rather, she is simply presenting herself as an alternative candidate. Moreover, she has virtually no hope of matching Ramos on the campaign financing side of the equation. In defeating Derry in 2012, Ramos, one of the controlling board members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, raised and spent over $400,000 to promote himself and his candidacy. The San Manuel tribe owns and operates the San Manuel Casino. One unverified report has it that James Ramos personally realizes income of approximately $18,000 per day from the casino’s operation – providing him with an income of more than $6.5 million per year.
A point of interest and contrast in the Ramos/Muñoz matchup are their conflicting partisan affiliations, and the serpentine bends in Ramos’s political trajectory, which has placed him under the sway of functionaries of the party that rivals his own. Ramos is a Democrat, but he was elected in 2012 with the support of a bevy of Republicans – former supervisor Dennis Hansberger, county district attorney Mike Ramos, county sheriff John McMahon, and supervisor Janice Rutherford – despite Derry’s status as a Republican. In addition to bankrolling his own campaign, James Ramos provided money to a number of Republican candidates for various offices and Republican causes. Even with his switch to becoming a darling of some within the San Bernardino County Republican establishment, Ramos sought to maintain his connection with the Democrats and his longtime Democratic associates, providing money to charities and organizations with Democratic party ties, such as Give Big San Bernardino, which was sponsored by San Bernardino County and for which Chris Carrillo, a Democrat functionary and activist who had served as a community representative for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and later as a field representative for Ramos, was chairman. Give Big San Bernardino raised $548,214 for various charities over a two day period from May 8 to May 9, 2014.
Ramos hired Carrillo and another Democrat, Mike Lipsitz, to serve as his field representatives. But he also hired Muñoz, who is vice chairwoman of the Morongo Valley Republican Women organization. In the most telling instance, Ramos chose Phil Pauli, who had previously worked for Republican Congressman Daryl Issa, as his chief of staff. For many Democrats, this was testament to the degree to which Ramos had fallen under the influence of the shot callers in the local Republican Party.
In time, Carrillo and Lipsitz would leave Ramos’s office. Carrillo did so, at least ostensibly, voluntarily to pursue his legal career. Lipsitz did so involuntarily after an incident involving drugs at the county jail system which embarrassed Ramos.
Just as Ramos has shifted alliances from the Democratic Party to a coterie of Republican affiliates and then on occasion back to the Democrats, Muñoz, who identifies herself as a Republican, has deviated from the straight-and-narrow of Republicanism. She is something of a creature of the government establishment in San Bernardino County, which puts her at odds with one school of Republicans who consider government to be a sycophantic burden upon the productive members of the community who are forced to pay homage to the welfare state and overregulation because of a bloated, inefficient and overweening governmental structure.
Muñoz has sought to maintain a reputation as both an elected and appointed official looking out for residents and citizens. Nevertheless, she has also been identified in both her elected and appointed capacity as someone who supports the institutions of government and those who man those institutions. For example, she was supportive in hiring Dr. Cecelia English, the former director of academics at the Newark School District in Northern California, as interim superintendent at the Morongo Unified School District in the aftermath of Jim Majchrzak’s departure as superintendent. But after negotiations in the spring of 2014 between English and members of the the Morongo Teachers’ Association and the California School Employees Association bogged down over teacher salaries and benefits, and faculty members evinced distrust of English, Munoz found herself as the only member of the board willing to grant English the 5.77 percent raise she had sought for herself in May 2014. A month later, English was forced out as superintendent with Munoz serving as her only defender. Some see no contradiction in Muñoz’s stance, since it was the unionists who took issue with English and unions are considered by many to be Democratic Party-affiliated entities.
Muñoz has spent a good portion of her working life as a government employee. As a result, she is somewhat disinclined to hear the complaints of residents and citizens who maintain that government is falling short or plagued by officials, elected and appointed, who are looking after their own interests rather than those of the taxpayers who employ them. Rather, she evinces a can-do attitude about the efficacy of government.
“The major difference between myself and the current supervisor is I have worked as a field representative for three supervisors,” she said. “When I was a field representative [for Turoci and Riordan] I was given a lot more leeway to solve problems. I rolled up my sleeves and was able to do more. I will never say anything derogatory about James [Ramos]. I had a completely satisfactory personal relationship with him. I think I am more committed to being out in the community. I enjoy that part of being in government and being out in the community. I understand the problems in this area. James relies more on his staff. I think I am more committed to being out in the community.”
Muñoz said she sees “a lot of different issues basinwide. We have ground solar vs. roof top solar. We are unique up here. I have a feel for this area. I was the assistant assessor. We comprise a huge geographical area, with the city [Twentynine Palms] and the town [Yucca Valley] and a whole bunch of smaller areas, Johnson Valley, Landers, Joshua Tree, Morongo Valley. They are all different from each other and from the rest of the distict. I am familiar with all of it, not just the city of Highland or Redlands, but all of the unique little pockets that make up the district. I have been out in each community. Each has different issues. In the outlying areas of the district, community centers take on special meaning and importance. As people get older, they need other people to step in and take action. I have experience running the Morongo Community Services District. When I got here, LAFCO [i.e., the county’s local agency formation commission] was looking at dissolving the district. I was able to get our budget in line and LAFCO just informed us they are willing to accept the way we are going to run the district. They are happy with it. In Joshua Tree, new construction and building has become an issue. The responsibility of a supervisor is to look at the varying issues and problems and find the least controversial way of solving those problems.”
Muñoz said that the supervisors should concern themselves less with the issues in the incorporated municipalities, while confronting issues of all sorts, planning, zoning, service provision, and the like in the unincorporated areas of the district. “The cities have boards and councils of their own to deal with the urban ares of the district,” she said. “The city council in Twentynine Palms and the town council in Yucca Valley can make decisions about how to solve their problems. In a few instances, the county does cross into the business of the various cities. For example, in Twentynine Palms there is a question about whether the city will accept the county fire department. And the county does partner with the cities for animal shelters and policy on things like solar development and some building or development that will impact the city. But the supervisor has more of an impact on the outlying communities, such as in getting money for community centers.”
She continued, “As far as decision making in the small areas like Morongo or other county areas where we have problems with leased land, I believe I can step in and help. I am not saying James is insensitive to our problems. It is just that I have spent the last 30 years of my life in the [Highway 62] community and I know the people who live here.”
She is not a one-trick pony who only knows the low desert and is ignorant of the mountain area, the Inland Valley and Barstow, Muñoz insisted.
“I am comfortable with the whole Third District,” she said. “I have a lot of experience as a field representative under my belt. I was the assistant assessor, which made me very familiar with all of the areas of the district. I was instrumental in bringing rapid transit to the Morongo Basin. I have solved issues with regard to water quality. I worked with the health department and fixed problems the well owners had. I am committed to making government work. The first thing I did after I came in here to be the executive director of the Morongo Community Services District was to take my salary down. I am making $22,000 less than the former general manager. People who meet me see that I have a lot of energy and see I am committed. People have suggested that now may be the time for me to step up into being supervisor. The time does feel right to me.”
Muñoz acknowledged that Ramos holds a tremendous advantage over her monetarily, as an incumbent who can raise money on that basis and deny her the same fundraising capability, as well as because of his own personal wealth and his ability to donate to his own electoneering fund in quantities she could never match.
“I want people to realize this is not about the money,” Muñoz said. “It is about integrity and doing a good job and making a difference. Right now, he may have more knowledge about the entire Third District than I do. But do not forget that as assistant assessor I have experience in every one of the district’s areas. I have worked with senior citizens. I am very familiar with the current issues and with regard to new issues I am very fast on my feet. I would make the county operation in our district user friendly, not just me, but my staff. County supervisors are different from assemblyman and congressman. Being county supervisor is a little more of a hands-on job. Under Don Willamson in the assessor’s office I was a liaison. I went on to become assistant assessor.”
In terms of serving the entirety of the county’s residents beyond her constituents in the Third District, Munoz said, “As a supervisor, your votes shape the county. You have a vote. You are one of five and you need to establish a good rapport with your colleagues. There is never one person who decides everything. But you must trust in your colleagues to know their districts as you know yours. You need a good core of people who can do their homework, know what is best in their own district and come up with solutions. I believe I can get my staff up to speed. If not, you will end up with a dysfunctional board. There are many issues I am sure I am not aware of. But you establish a rapport with the county’s department heads and you use them to get into each county department and get all the sides of the issues and the facts. You work face-to-face with the people who are on top of the issues. Collaboration is very important.”
Munoz attended Pasadena City College. In addition to her work in government she worked for Robinson’s Department Store, moving into a management role, and was a Pacific Telephone service representative and manager. She also ran a Sears corporate offshoot, a Sears Dealership Store, which is an outlet located in a small community. She assisted her daughter in starting a day care business. She has been married to Art Munoz for 36 years. They have five children, 18 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Art is retired from 37 years in the restaurant industry, having served as general manager to Clearman’s North Woods Inn.

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