SAN BERNARDINO — County leaders may have to revoke Dawn Rowe’s appointment as 3rd District supervisor this month, as a state appeals court has rejected their efforts to keep her on the board.
Rowe’s appointment was ruled unlawful and in violation of the state’s open-meeting laws in September by Judge Janet Frangie of the San Bernardino County Superior Court. The county quickly filed to postpone the enforcement of Frangie’s judgment while it appealed her decision, but that petition was denied Wednesday. Now Rowe’s fellow supervisors may have to rescind her appointment at their next board meeting on Jan. 28.
“We are happy that the courts again have sided with transparency and the rule of law,” said Michael Gomez Daly, the petitioner seeking to have Rowe’s appointment overturned. “For too long have we allowed local elected officials to do their work and forget they are accountable to us, their constituents.”
County spokesman David Wert issued a press release that said Rowe’s appointment was legal, proper and conducted with full transparency and multiple opportunities for full public participation, including public testimony, opportunities for all applicants to publicly address the board of supervisors and public interviews.
Wert said while the state appeals court denied the county’s petition to “stay,” or halt, enforcement of Frangie’s ruling, that does not affect the county’s attempt to appeal the decision.
The court’s ruling does, however, mean that the board of supervisors may have to rescind her appointment while they attempt to appeal.
“The decision simply lifted a stay on a lower court ruling,” said Wert. “Assuming that the lower court ruling is no longer stayed and is now in effect, it compels the board of supervisors to rescind Supervisor Rowe’s appointment at its next meeting, which occurs on Jan. 28.”
As of today, Rowe’s service as the 3rd District’s representative on the board of supervisors remains uninterrupted. Wert said the county is considering various options, including appealing the lifting of the stay.
“The county’s goals are ensuring representation for the more than 400,000 people who live in the 3rd District, ensuring the county’s ability to conduct the public’s business by having a full five-member board of supervisors, and preserving the right of the people through their county charter to have locally appointed representation in the event of a vacancy,” Wert said.
YV woman was named to replace Ramos
Rowe was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board that was created in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. James Ramos, who was serving as the 3rd District supervisor, was elected to the California Assembly.
In a special meeting on Nov. 13, the four remaining board members approved a process to fill the vacancy.
Board members Robert Lovingood, Janice Rutherford, Curt Hagman and Josie Gonzales opened the seat to the public and received 52 applications in two weeks. Forty-eight of those applicants were found to be eligible and the board directed each supervisor to email his or her top candidates to the clerk.
Candidates with two or more votes would be brought in for interviews.
Thirteen candidates were considered nominated and were invited to be interviewed in front of the board during a special meeting on Dec. 11. After the interviews, the board chose five candidates for further consideration and was scheduled to appoint one of them on Dec. 18.
Instead, the board received letters alleging that the narrowing of the candidates from 48 to 13 was unlawful because it was done through email and not in open session.
The board then decided that each of them would submit three names from the original 48 and all of the candidates submitted would be brought before the board for questions. Six people were selected — the five the board had chosen in its previous meeting and Christopher Carrillo, a local favorite who many said was Ramos’ pick for the position. Carrillo had been Ramos’ deputy chief of staff.
Petitioners alleged that these interviews did not solve the problem and that none of the other 35 previously eliminated candidates was given the opportunity to go before the board for an interview.
“The Dec. 18, 2018, interviews were essentially a continuation of the unlawful process that began with the Dec. 10 secret ballot,” stated the complaint against the board submitted by Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United.
The board interviewed the six candidates and at the conclusion of the meeting, appointed Rowe.
The Yucca Valley resident has been serving on the board ever since as the 3rd District supervisor and she has filed to run for election in 2020.
After her appointment, Inland Empire United quickly filled a lawsuit against the county that alleged the process of selection violated the Brown Act because it involved a secret ballot. In trying to correct the problem, Daly said, the supervisors did not interview all candidates and showed favor toward candidates they had selected earlier in the process.
On Sept. 18, 2019, the judge ruled that Rowe’s appointment was unlawful. She declared that the board was in violation of the Brown Act and Rowe’s appointment was null and void.