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Votes May Trigger an Audit in San Bernardino County

April 05, 2006|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt plans to ask for an audit of contracts that fellow board member Dennis Hansberger voted to award a nonprofit agency while he was dating its executive director, Ovitt's top aide said Tuesday.

The Times reported Tuesday that from 1998 to 2001, Hansberger cast votes to award $3 million in county contracts to nonprofit Redlands-Yucaipa Guidance Clinic Assn. Inc., now called Vista Guidance Centers.

During that time, he was dating the facility's executive director, Mary Trost, who has since left the agency. Both said they did not live together and that their finances were not intertwined.

The vast majority of the contracts were approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors.

Hansberger's actions were not illegal but did raise ethical questions, experts said.

State conflict-of-interest laws prohibit public officials from making decisions that benefit themselves, their spouses or their children.

Board Chairman Bill Postmus, for instance, said those rules made it acceptable for him to vote in 2004 to approve a $77,000 contract for a charter school that employed his father.

Hansberger said Tuesday that there was nothing underhanded about how contracts were awarded to the agency, a longtime county provider, and called Ovitt's proposed audit "political, not administrative."

"If you look at the record, what you see is that my relationship with her had no influence," said Hansberger, who in recent months has often tangled with his board colleagues.

The county is still trying to rehabilitate its image from a mid-1990s corruption scandal that snared two top administrators, then-Supervisor Gerald "Jerry" Eaves and other political players in kickback and bribery schemes.

Mark Kirk, Ovitt's chief of staff, said his boss found Hansberger's votes for the clinic contracts "disturbing" and would have recused himself. Ovitt was not on the board when the votes were taken.

An audit would "clear the air about what took place," Kirk said.

Ovitt wants the audit to examine how the contracts were awarded and how the agency spent the money, among other things.

Supervisor Paul Biane, who was also not on the board when the votes were cast, said he hoped the audit would be expanded to include whether Hansberger's personal relationship with Trost affected the contracting process or financially benefited either party.

In June 1999, Trost's annual salary as executive director was $69,671. Three years later, it was $96,880, according to federal tax documents.

Ovitt intends to determine the scope of his proposal and bring it to the board for a vote as soon as Tuesday, its next meeting.

Also Tuesday, the full board unanimously approved $281,050 for Vista Guidance Centers to continue providing substance abuse treatment services.

Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.

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