What Is Role Of County Supervisors?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Change could be on the horizon for the unchanging Board of Supervisors. On June 8, every registered voter in the county of San Diego can decide whether county supervisors should be limited to eight years on the board. If term limits passes, it could redefine a governing body that likes to stay out of the limelight. Next week the KPBS Envision special will focus on the County Board of Supervisors. KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon produced 'Who's Supervising San Diego?' So Joanne, why is this a topic that you wanted to cover in the Envision series.
JOANNE FARYON (KPBS News): Well, really, a couple of reasons, Gloria, as you mentioned in your introduction, this is a layer of government that is not often scrutinized. In fact, they're not -- they don't really receive a lot of media coverage. Also, we went in with the assumption that we don't think a lot of people in this county really understand that layer of government, or understand really what a supervisor does.
PENNER: So what is their role?
FARYON: Well, they control a $5 billion budget, and that $5 billion pays for various social services programs. We hear a lot about food stamps, it pays for public assistance, when we had the H1N1 outbreak it's the county's job to intervene and assess the risk. They inspect restaurants. They actually make a lot of decisions that affect your daily life. $5 billion, but 80 percent of that budget is tied up in state and federal, in other words these are state programs, and federal programs that the county has to administer, and then there's a 20 percent, a $1 billion, that the board can actually establish its priorities with.
PENNER: So that's where their power is. Why should people care what the Board of Supervisors does?
FARYON: It's your money. That billion dollars, most of that comes from your local property taxes, so you ought to know how they spend that billion dollars, you ought to know what their priorities.
PENNER: Well, then what are their priorities?
FARYON: Well, I asked them, and here they describe their priorities in their own words.
GREG COX (Supervisor): My priorities are still public safety.
PAM SLATER-PRICE (Supervisor): The public safety is our number one priority.
RON ROBERTS (Supervisor): Public safety is the highest priority.
BILL HORN (Supervisor): Public safety.
DIANNE JACOB (Supervisor): My number one priority has always been public safety.
PENNER: So if public safety is the priority for the current board, what does that mean for the other services that the county is supposed to provide?
FARYON: Well, I think the thing that was a little bit surprising first of all, and you just saw all five supervisors, you saw Greg Cox, Pam Slater-Price, Ron Roberts, Bill Horn and Dianne Jacob, and they all establish public safety for all of them as their number one concern. I think first of all the public ought to know that. You've got a board who shares a similar priority really in terms of what they think is important for this county. There are a number of other things the county is responsible for, we talked about social services. We looked at, looking at this billion-dollar pie, how does the board divvy up its resources? How much money goes to public safety? Turns out it's more than half of that pie. How much money goes toward health and human services? Turns out it's 7 percent of that pie, and in fact that 7 percent is decreasing.
PENNER: But why is this all meaningful to the county residents -- that so much of the priority goes to public safety?
FARYON: Well, when you hear stories about San Diego County has the worst food stamp record, in other words we're in the middle of a recession and fewer people are getting resources, we want to know why. Why is that? You hear stories that we also investigate a lot of public assistance fraud? Why is that? And what we really traced it back to -- the board has a philosophy, they have an approach to government, and it's important to know when you're voting, who you're voting for.
PENNER: You checked this out with one of our San Diego city councilmen.
FARYON: Absolutely. So we spoke with Todd Gloria, and the reason we spoke with him is because he worked for the state legislature, he worked for the county, and now he's an elected representative. He sits on the City Council. And we asked him about, sort of this lack of media scrutiny, the composition of the board, and here's what he had to say.
TODD GLORIA (City of San Diego Councilmember): I think that when people look at the current composition of the Board of Supervisors they are surprised by the very homogenous nature of the board, where you have all Republicans, all San Diego State grads and all Caucasian. And then you look perhaps at the San Diego city council and we're far more diverse. We have three women, three people of color, two gay men, six democrats, two republicans, and it's more heterogeneous and I think therefore creates a more healthy dialogue in terms of points of view, perspectives, life experiences that are all brought to the table when decisions are being made.
PENNER: You know, the media has taken a look at the supervisors lately. It's looked at their discretionary fund, and there's been some criticism.
FARYON: Yes. The critics have called that the slush fund, and what that is, it's $2 million per supervisor, and that supervisor gets to hand that money out in grants to various community organizations. It is subject to final board approval. Because of this scrutiny, because critics have said 'Wait a minute' it's not so much where the money goes but it's the process, that it's a supervisor deciding whether or not your cause is worthy. They've been under fire for that. As a result, the board has voted to reduce that discretionary fund from $2 million to $1 million next fiscal year, however I should let you know, we looked up a bunch of documents. According to that operational plan, the discretionary fund returns to $2 million after next fiscal year.
PENNER: Okay, so I'm looking forward to it. When does 'Who's Supervising San Diego?' air?
FARYON: June 2, that's Wednesday night at 8 p.m., and also you can find a lot of information on our website, KPBS.org/supervisors. You can learn more about that discretionary fund, and how we compared to other supervisors across the state as well.
PENNER: Joanne Faryon, thank you very much.
FARYON: Thanks for having me.