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Supervisors Use Of Discretionary Fund Challenged

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Video published March 5, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price issued an apology for not properly reporting $1500 worth of free tickets from The San Diego Opera and the Old Globe Theatre. We discuss the controversy over the supervisors use of county discretionary funds.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Supervisor Pam Slater-Price did not report almost $1500 worth of free tickets from the San Diego Opera and the Old Globe Theater. Uh, it took questions from The San Diego Union Tribune to dig out her failure to document the gifts. Here’s her statement after the story came out:

“It has always been my intent to follow the laws regarding the requirement to report gifts. It has been my understanding that tickets from a non-profit organization for attendance to that organization’s events were not subject to the gift restrictions, and therefore not reportable. I will personally reimburse the Old Globe and the San Diego Opera for all tickets reported in the newspaper.” (Pam Slater-Price)

PENNER: Alright so there we have it. She actually already took a check down to those venues and said, “Here I’m paying you back.” What do you think of her statement?

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, CityBeat): Well. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for elected officials that say they didn’t know what the rules were for being an elected official. I mean, you’re, you’re you are responsible for knowing what you can and can’t do. But having said that, I don’t, this is just not one of those things that I think is really going to resonate with the public. I don’t see, you know, an angry mob forming outside her office calling for her ouster.

PENNER: So Kent, you don’t see this as damaging, uh to Slater-Price, having any long-term effects on her career.

KENT DAVY (Editor North County Times): Well she’s not up for re-election for two more years, so by that time it will be probably, probably long forgotten except for whoever her opponent might be. Uhm it does however, add fuel to the fire of the critics of the supervisor’s reinvestment program as they call it, community reinvestment – I think it’s something like that.

PENNER: Ah yes, it used to be discretionary fund, yeah.

DAVY: The critics, including our editorial page, refer to it as a slush fund. And it is at their discretion. They dole it out to people that they choose, without regard to anything other than the fact that it has to be to nonprofits.

PENNER: Well the supervisor’s discretionary fund has had a succession of names as Kent said, in its search for credibility. The latest, as Kent said, is the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. We asked the president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association her opinion of the controversial program.

LANI LUTAR (President & CEO of SD County Taxpayers Association): Our concern is that this program has strayed from its initial intent of funding bricks and mortar projects. It is now funding programs that I would say are lesser priority relative to other core county services.

LUTAR: It’s the process that I think a lot of people have concerns with - the notion that each supervisor gets to give money to their specific organization or to their specific project of interest. Rather than it going through a more formal process, where the county administrative officer would present a proposal and then they would either adopt or reject it. So I think a lot of what you hear over and over from concerned citizens is the process by which the money is allocated. The perception that it’s a means to pay back any special interest groups that might have supported their campaigns and one way to address that would be to award the money through a normal budget process as most governments do.

PENNER: So Kent, as Lani said, the perception is that these funds in effect are campaign funds and that they are awarded outside the normal budget process. So why hasn’t this been changed?

DAVEY: Well because it is convenient for supervisors to have money that they can go dole out to various people who appreciate very much their attention and their funds. Uh, Bill Horn will go to Boys & Girls Clubs and little league and drop money on them. Pam Slater-Price likes the opera, she drops large dollars to the opera. It’s whatever the supervisor in the case wants.

PENNER: Now that the story has broken about Slater-Price, do you expect more public pressure on the supervisors and that there will be changes?

ROLLAND: Not from the public. Not from the general public, but you will have it from folks like Lani Lutar and newspaper editors like us, uh calling for it to be changed. Look this is not, this is not, would not be a problem if everybody was just rolling in money. Uhm, you know but, but everybody is dealing with a budget crisis right now and this is kind of shameful that it is taxpayer money that does not go through any kind of process, like Lani says.

PENNER: What would you like to see changed?

ROLLAND: Uh I would, I would like to see just uh, just an end to the fund altogether. Or at least, and just put it back into the general fund where it has to go through some kind of budgetary process. But failing that I would like to make it sort of a competitive program where community organizations could at least compete for, for, for grants.

DAVY: I agree with that. I think that if the supervisors have excess money that they can use for this thing it needs to be a graded, prioritized kind of system in which all the supervisors somehow collectively decide rather then simply saying to a supervisor “you get to spend yours how you want.”

PENNER: Well, just very briefly Ken, we talked about Donna Frye’s decision not to run for the Board of Supervisors. Without new blood on the board, do you really think we’re gonna see a change in the slush fund?

DAVY: No, I don’t.

PENNER: Ok, well thank you very much.

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