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San Bernardino County Supervisors’ single-term lifetime limit, approved by voter majority, was struck down Sept. 17, before it could take effect. 

The lifetime limit, passed 67% to 33% in November as Measure K, would have prevented San Bernardino County Supervisors from being elected as supervisor twice in their lifetime, and would have capped their salary at $5,000 monthly. The Board of Supervisors fought the measure in a writ of mandate against County Clerk Lynna Monell in December. This resulted in the September ruling. 

The Red Brennan Group, which pushed for the measure in 2020 with at least $1.2 million from Wrightwood native and now Floridian Eric Steinmann, appealed the ruling Sept. 22. 

Supervisor Janice Rutherford, the longest-running supervisor in the county, is serving her third term. Supervisor pay was, prior to a change last year, supposed to be capped to the average pay of supervisors from Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties. A county document from 2020 states the maximum pay and benefits for supervisors should be no more than $200,933, but Transparent California shows Chair of the Board Curt Hagman received $254,000 in total pay and benefits in 2019. 

Transparent California data includes an approximately $64,000 annual retirement package for each supervisor, and excluding it, supervisors would be below the $200,933 limit, according to David Wert, San Bernardino County public information officer. 

San Bernardino Superior Judge Donald Alvarez ruled the term limit unconstitutional Sept. 17, using a strict scrutiny analysis because it limits an incumbent’s right to seek re-election, and a citizen’s right to vote for who they consider best. 

The “rights at issue are the right of the electorate to vote for the candidate of their choice and the right of an incumbent to run for his office again,” Alvarez wrote in his ruling.  

The term limit’s purpose was to limit the influence of interest groups and focus the supervisors on the voters, but the limit did not narrowly or necessarily solve for either of those, Alvarez ruled. 

Placing consecutive term limits or solely reducing salary could reduce interest group influence by increasing supervisor turnover, Alvarez ruled, without taking away an individual’s right to vote or run for office. A supervisor may also be just as distracted seeking new jobs while in office as they might be running a re-election campaign, Alvarez said. 

Alvarez claimed that existing term limits are substantially longer than a single four-year term that county supervisors have. State senators and assemblymembers can serve for 12 years, and California governors for eight years. 

Although Alvarez ruled that Measure K’s monthly salary reduction to $5,000 was constitutional, and Measure K was written with a severability clause intended to keep the salary reduction alive if the term-limit element was found unconstitutional or vice versa, Alvarez denied severance because it was not proven that Measure K would have been voted in solely as a salary reduction. Neither the term limit or the salary reduction will go into effect unless The Red Brennan Group wins on appeal. 

In a public filing, The Red Brennan Group’s backer, Eric Steinmann. reported that he spent $1.2 million supporting Measure K and Measure U, and opposing Measure J, in the last five months of 2020. Measure U failed 109,000 to 119,000, but would have repealed a tax of $157.26 per parcel in the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District. 

Measure J revised the county charter, and was passed 378,964 to 368,224. 

The new charter under Measure J did change supervisor pay, changing it from being the average of supervisors’ pay from Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties to being 80% of San Bernardino Superior Court Judges’ pay. 

Steinmann grew up in Wrightwood but now lives in Florida, The Red Brennan Group’s CEO, Tom Murphy, confirmed.  

The Red Brennan Group is also suing Measure J’s implementation, because Measure K received more votes and, if found constitutional, would supersede Measure J’s salary change on that fact, said Murphy.  

Steinmann hired Murphy, from Escondido, to run the group.  

“I have an underlying concern about government at all levels being too large, controlled by a political class increasingly unconcerned with the goings-ons of local people,” Murphy said. 

Murphy said the effort began in 2010, when the Board of Supervisors hired a chief executive officer, necessitating, in his eyes, a pay cut.  

The Board of Supervisors is represented by Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm. The Red Brennan Group is represented by Carlsbad-based Aaron Burden

Read the complaint here

Read the ruling here

Case number: CIVSB2025319 


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