SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY — Dawn Rowe’s seat on the Board of Supervisors is in question after Judge Janet M. Frangie of the San Bernardino County Superior Court ruled on Wednesday that her appointment was unlawful and in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
In the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, James Ramos, who was serving as the 3rd District supervisor for San Bernardino County, was elected to represent the 40th District of the California Assembly. As a result, a vacancy on the board was created and 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 the names of their top candidates, up to 10, to the clerk.
Candidates with two or more votes would be brought in for interviews.
Thirteen candidates were considered nominees and were invited to be interviewed in front of the board during a special meeting on Dec. 11. After the interviews, five candidates were chosen for further consideration and the board was scheduled to appoint a candidate during its regular board meeting on Dec. 18. Instead, they 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. Two letters were sent by private citizen Ruth Musser-Lopez and one was sent by Michael Gomez Daly, the petitioner on the lawsuit against the board.
Lovingood moved to rescind all the prior actions taken by the board to fill the position and Hagman suggested that each supervisor recommend a couple of names from all original 48 candidates in the open session to be interviewed.
Lovingood did not agree with the allegations against the board’s process and moved to appoint Rowe immediately, without doing any further interviews, but his motion was denied, getting only two votes.
Each board member was directed to submit three names and all of the candidates submitted were brought before the board for questions. Six people were selected — the five the board had selected 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 were 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, the executive director of Inland Empire United.
The board interviewed the six candidates and at the conclusion of the meeting, appointed Rowe to the seat.
The Yucca Valley resident has been serving on the board ever since as the 3rd District supervisor and she recently announced that she plans to run for re-election in 2020.
After her appointment, Inland Empire United quickly filled a lawsuit against the county that alleged that the process by which Rowe was selected violated the Brown Act because it involved a secret ballot and, in trying to correct, the problem the supervisors did not interview all candidates and showed favor toward candidates they selected in the earlier selection process.
“The supported corrective actions taken by the board of supervisors at the Dec. 18, 2018 meeting were pro forma at best and did not constitute a cure,” read the complaint.
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the judge ruled in favor of the petitioners and found that Rowe’s appointment was unlawful. She declared that the board was in violation of the Brown Act and that Rowe’s appointment was null and void.
On Thursday morning, the county of San Bernardino responded to the court’s findings and submitted an appeal to the court of appeals.
“The county appealed this morning, so the decision is stayed,” said public information officer David Wert in an email.
Wert later issued a press release that said that the appointment of Rowe 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.
The county considers Wednesday’s action as the latest step in a lengthy legal process, Wert said. Hagman also added to the press release and said that Rowe has served the county well for the past nine months.
“Supervisor Rowe represents the Third District with integrity, intelligence, compassion and fairness," said Hagman in the press release. "We should not have to defend the appointment, but we will do so every step of the way.”
If the appeals court decides to uphold Frangie’s findings, then Rowe will be removed from office and a new 3rd District supervisor will be appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.