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San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus Fights Public Records Disclosure

Postmus gives public the mushroom treatment

Some government officials view members of the public as mushrooms, to be kept in the dark and covered with manure.

San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus is surely one of those officials. Postmus waged a pitched battle, at county expense, last year to resist turning over calendars and e-mails from his time on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2006. Now, in a stunning development, his aide Adam Aleman has been criminally charged with destruction of public records. The District Attorney’s office says Aleman deep-sixed the hard-drive of a laptop computer which belonged to his boss Postmus when Postmus was on the Board of Supervisors. Postmus has not been charged with a crime.

Aleman’s alleged criminality isn’t the only questionable conduct to take place on Postmus’ watch. The same day Aleman was arrested, June 30, the county Grand Jury issued a scathing report saying that the Assessor’s office had been widely used for political purposes, with staffers engaging in Republican party activities at county expense.

The Grand Jury found that when Postmus took office in January 2007 he hired an “executive support staff” which “lacked experience or training directly associated with assessor work.” Most of the “executive support staff” had been with Postmus when he was on the Board of Supervisors and/or was Republican Central Committee Chairman. While dedicated career employees who’d been on the job before Postmus was elected did the day-to-day work, Postmus’ people did “public image” work and “engaged in political activities for various national, state, and local political candidates during normal working hours.” In other words, Bill Postmus harnessed your tax dollars to the service of his own large political ambitions, whether you liked it or not. That’s called taxation without representation, or maybe even Tammany Hall corruption.

Last year, county lawyers resisted turning over e-mails and calendars belonging to Postmus and Supervisor Paul Biane because, they claimed, disclosing those e-mails would supposedly interfere with these honchos’ ability to do their jobs and have a “chilling effect” on their ability to gather information from constituents. The recent events involving Postmus expose this argument – commonly made by the government when citizens seek public records — as a smokescreen which can hide evidence that officials aren’t doing their job or are using public money for private political gain.

Aleman resigned after his arrest. Postmus issued a statement thanking him profusely for his service. (Postmus had hired Aleman, who had no experience as an assessor, to a six-figure job.)

Last year, the California Supreme Court in a landmark decision pointed out that the release of public employee salary records can expose “corruption, incompetence, inefficiency and favoritism.” The recent events involving Mr. Postmus show just how right the court is, and why the good citizens of the Inland Empire and the rest of the state can’t and shouldn’t let public officials like Postmus keep them in the dark.

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