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How Should Sups Spend $10 Million Fund?


Aired 3/5/10

The San Diego Taxpayers Association is challenging how San Diego County Supervisors use their $10 million dollar discretionary fund. We'll discuss the ethics of what some supervisors get for giving.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This was raised before, so let’s dig it out a little bit. Pam Slater-Price is lucky that she's not up for re-election this year after all the publicity that was stirred up by the free tickets she got from the San Diego Opera and the Old Globe Theatre. Barbara, it was under $1500 worth of tickets. Why the flap over this?

BARBARA BRY (Associate Publisher/Opinion Editor, Listen, Gloria, Pam Slater-Price is a long term county supervisor. She should have known better. Maybe technically it was within the limits but, listen, she’s given these two organizations $3 million. She loves the arts. I mean, it’s very nice. She loves the arts and she’s used, you know, some of her discretionary money, you know, to, you know, reward the Old Globe and the San Diego Opera. And every time I…

PENNER: Wait, wait, wait. It’s not ‘her’ discretionary money, it’s ‘our’ money.

BRY: Well…

PENNER: It’s taxpayer money.

BRY: …I agree with you about that and that’s a whole other subject. I think the time has come to do away with this discretionary funds idea. In Los Angeles, they’ve had a similar issue and they’re actually already have taken steps to do away with at least part of it. And we – you know, this county has limited funds at this moment in time and this is $10 million that I think should be spent to benefit the county as a whole and voted on by all five supervisors.

PENNER: Well, I think the interesting thing is that a lot of people see these $2 million that each supervisor has to spend as kind of campaign money because they can go out and convince people that they are worth voting for, as though they needed it at this point. But it’s interesting to me, David, I don’t know, are you an opera fan? Do you go to the opera?

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): I think I’ve been to the opera one time.


ROLLAND: And it was fun. I had a good time.

PENNER: Her gifts to the opera are recognized lavishly…

ROLLAND: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: …with monumental photographs of Pam Slater decked out in opera garb above the stage and in the program the same way that private philanthropists are recognized. The impression is that this is her money she’s giving away. But, as I said, it’s ours. So why aren’t our pictures up there?

ROLLAND: Well, I’m not sure there’s wall space or space in the program for all of us in there, so I think that answers that question. But, yeah, you go to, for instance, you can go to Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, and their gallery space is dedicated to Pam Slater-Price. She does, as Barbara says, she does – I think she really is very, very proud of the fact that she is the elected official in this region who really, really supports the arts. But you’re absolutely right, Gloria, that it’s – that it is not her money. And these – we tend to scrutinize these – this kind of program when there’s no – when there is very little money to go around. Now there is very little money to go around right now, but still these supervisors are doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars, you know, without any kind of process for determining need and, you know, what the highest and best use of this money is. I mean, if it’s taxpayer money, it should go into the general fund and if we want to set up a competitive grant program where community organizations can compete for this money, that’s fine. But there is no process right now, and this gets back into our last discussion which is about elections. Now, the unions that we talked about that are backing this term limits ballot measure say this is another incumbent protection measure where these people can use this money in order to garner support and basically put campaign ads up all over the place, you know, in the form of the things that we’ve been talking about, the, you know, the picture of them in the program or whatever.

PENNER: Okay, well, I’ll put out one last call to our callers and see if they are even aware of this discretionary fund and whether – Do you have any feelings about it? Is it perfectly okay for the supervisors to choose what groups they’re going to give money to and not have it go through any kind of prioritization process, I guess that’s the best way to put it. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. I want to pick up on what Barbara said. Other boards of supervisors, other government jurisdictions, are getting rid of this fund, according to Barbara. Who are the other…

BRY: Well, I just know about the City of Los Angeles.


BRY: So the City of Los Angeles, where the city council apparently has much more money than $10 million to give away…


BRY: …has agreed to put $12 million of their discretionary funds into the emergency reserve in Los Angeles.

PENNER: …if voters aren’t interested in voting supervisors out and serious politicians aren’t interested in challenging them and if the voters generally seem to be sort of ho-hum about the whole board of supervisors, what reasons would they have to change this system?

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Well, I think that’s precisely the problem to the extent that you can’t get – or there is not change on the board in terms of new faces showing up. People are very happy to have the discretionary fund available to them. It is not scored, it is not prioritized, and, indeed, each of the supes basically gets to decide where that money’s going to go without regard to anything else. So it becomes a kind of legal patronage system for them.

BRY: Yeah.

DAVY: And I think that’s just exactly the problem.

PENNER: Okay, well, you know, our time is almost up. All of our lines have suddenly buzzed up with lights which means people want to talk about it but, hey, guys, it’s too late so I hope you’ll post your comment on because I sure can’t leave this program this week without addressing at least this. This week, California’s Attorney General and former California governor, Jerry Brown, declared he’s running for governor. He is one of two Democrats running for the office but the only one with significant name recognition. First, let’s go around the table. Let me have your reaction about his decision to come back after more than 30 years – it’s been 30 years since he was governor, and what can we expect from this campaign? All right, you don’t have too much time but go ahead.

DAVY: I just – it’ll be vastly entertaining.

PENNER: Vastly entertaining.

DAVY: Yeah.

PENNER: Do you expect him to levitate? I saw a political cartoon to that effect.

DAVY: I expect him to try.

PENNER: Okay. David.

ROLLAND: I don’t expect him to try. My reaction to this is ho-hum. We all knew he was gong to run and, in fact, convention wisdom is that he is going to be our next governor simply because his likely opponent in the general election will be Meg Whitman and we tend not to elect rich business people, we tend to elect people who we think are sort of indepen – have an independent streak and Jerry Brown, over the decades, has developed an independent streak. And so I think that he’s…

PENNER: So he’s our next governor?

ROLLAND: I – I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that but that…

PENNER: Oh, what a shame. I wanted you to go out on that…

ROLLAND: All right. I’ll say it right now.


ROLLAND: Yes, he’s going to be our next governor.

PENNER: Remember that. David Rolland said it here.

ROLLAND: Well, you made me.

PENNER: Yeah, okay.

BRY: Well, I think it’s going to be a most entertaining campaign. It’s going to be very close. You know, Jerry Brown, who only formally announced, you know, this week has many more friends on Facebook than Meg Whitman and he – you know, I covered him in the seventies when I was at the Sacramento Bee. He is one of the smartest politicians I’ve ever met and I think he’s got to be the favorite going into November.

PENNER: All right. Just briefly, Barbara, since you did cover him. What kind of a campaign – if it’s Meg Whitman versus Jerry Brown, what kind of a campaign is it going to be?

BRY: He’s going to run a very low key campaign. You know, his wife has been his campaign manager up to now, and he has spent almost no money. I mean, all the money that he’s been taking in is still pretty much sitting there. And so he’s going to run a campaign – and I think he’s really going to go to the people, I think he’s going to make very effective use of social media tools, of Facebook, of Twitter, and I think he’s going to do better than Meg Whitman in the debates, if she will agree to debate him.


BRY: I’ve seen her in the last few months in front of three different types of audiences and she has not connected well.

PENNER: Barbara, thank you very much. That’s Barbara Bry of Thank you, David Rolland. We’ll see you tonight on San Diego Week and San Diego – that’s from San Diego CityBeat, and from the North County Times, we have Kent Davy, also tonight on San Diego Week. Thank you to our callers and our listeners. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

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Avatar for user 'LaurieSanderson'

LaurieSanderson | March 5, 2010 at 10:41 a.m. ― 7 years ago

I work for Classics 4 Kids, a small and incredibly effective nonprofit that relies on support from the Supervisors to keep our programs going for undeserved children in the county. With our constituency of young elementary school children, it is totally ridiculous to think that the Supervisors are getting any personal or political benefit from their support of these in-school arts-education programs. Programs like ours, that target underrepresented children, fly so far under the radar that the Supervisors are an ABSOLUTELY VITAL part of our funding. The Supervisors have the staff to look into and evaluate community programs that the general public is often unaware of. To me, the fact they continuously choose to include the low profile but effective programs like Classics 4 Kids shows how seriously they take responsibility of using these public funds. Thank you Supervisors Slater-Price, Horn, Roberts & Cox, for your commitment to the children of San Diego County.

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Avatar for user 'peterbon'

peterbon | March 5, 2010 at 10:56 a.m. ― 7 years ago

In my opinion, the inetersting and important issue here is Pam Slater's conduct. I like her politics, and I think it is just fine that she and the other Supervisors can be patrons of $2 million worth of whatever they like. The policy is also an ancient one. Slater's possible cupidity should not threaten the policy; the discussion should be about what she was thinking.

Y'all do seem to have trouble staying on topic. The Mayor testifies in favor of same-sex marriage, and you want to explore how common it is for public officials to testify. Huh??

One more example of slip-sliding away: you seem unable to focus for more than a few seconds on the benighted approach of the Supervisors to their social service obligations. They seem mired in the 19th century in their approach toward the needs and rights of poor people. Why not explore that?

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Avatar for user 'DebUC'

DebUC | March 5, 2010 at 11:26 a.m. ― 7 years ago

I think that this is a frivolous discussion. The way Penner posed questions (asking one panelist, "When was the last time YOU went to the opera?") suggests to me that this is more to garner ratings than seriously discuss an issue. She relies on the old saw that in tough economic times, arts & culture are frivolous. Her implicit suggestion that the most money should go to the most popular activities flies in the face of supporting diverse endeavors. If this were true, I'd guess that the beaches and golf courses would get the most funding. (In fact, I've seen Gloria and her husband at numerous cultural events -- but that's not the point, either.)
1. San Diego County is a diverse urban, suburban and rural area. No one person can possibly enjoy each of the offerings within its boundaries. The beauty of this county is its very richness of activities: natural, cultural, historic, sports & entertainment. I think the individual grants by supervisors to non-profits they deem worthy IS a good idea because they a)support a diversity of non-profits, and b)help non-profits in a region lacking sufficient corporate & private philanthropy. (I, for one, have no personal interest in pet care, animal rescue and shelters but think these are beneficial to a diverse community and I am glad they are supported by its constituency -- and I am sure that one of the supervisors supports such entities like the Helen Woodward center - a reasonable use of county funds for the public good.)

2. The "either-or" implicit notion that county funds should support only "county" non-profits is very short-sighted. Attractions within the City of San Diego benefit all county residents -- and attract tourists, as well, to the entire region. The same people who visit The San Diego Botanical Garden, Mission Trails County Park, Borrego Springs flowers or the Chula Vista Nature Center might very well visit the San Diego Zoo, Natural History Museum or Stephen Birch Aquarium.

3. I concur on one point: County funds recommended by one or more supervisors should be acknowledged by the non-profits as simply coming from the County, e.g. " San Diego County Board of Supervisors," adding perhaps, "recommended by Pam Slater-Price and Ron Roberts." (This is common when grants are made by funds through our community foundations.)

FINALLY: In the 34 years I have lived here, I've learned that the San Diego region cannot decide on its identity. Everybody here says this is heaven because of the weather. But there must be more than weather to provide its citizens a meaningful life. We cannot decide if we want to be a World Class region (with its diversity of culture, urban offerings and rural attractions), or a "Santa Barbara South" (a small university town with limited culture surrounded by lovely natural areas). Other regions are moving ahead of us because their leaders actually lead, and citizens understand that these simplistic "weather vs. culture" discussions lead nowhere.

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