City Attorney weighs in on Measure L discussion

Council to discuss Measure L committee ‘re-visioning’ at tonight’s meeting

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

City Attorney Keith Lemieux authored an opinion, attached to this week’s agenda for the Ridgecrest City Council’s Wednesday meeting, that supported the mayor’s stated position regarding the role of a Citizen’s Oversight Board to review spending of Measure L.

Although the ballot item gained approval as a general tax (which needs only a majority vote to implement), the city pledged to spend the money only on police and streets if the public supported it. The city established the oversight committee to ensure that the tax was spent according to that promise.

The dispute between city and committee officials appears to be the divergent positions of the former, which outlines the role of committee members as only an obligation to review city expenditures on a quarterly basis and presenting a report to the public on an annual basis, and the latter, which has pursued knowledge of budgetary context in order to ensure Measure L spending is a supplement to police and streets, and not a substitute for existing funding to those areas.

An in-depth review by committee member Phil Salvatore, who is a cost analyst in his day job, suggests that the city has in fact been cutting general-fund support to those areas and counting on Measure L to backfill those services.

Several committee members have objected that this practice does not reflect the public understanding that the special tax would be augmenting those services.

Mayor Dan Clark then released a “re-visioning” statement outlining what he characterized as the council’s interpretation of the committee’s role, which limited the committee’s meeting times, staff availability and access to city documents. It also reminded the committee members that they could be replaced by a majority vote of the council.

These documents, presented by City Manager Dennis Speer at last week’s oversight committee meeting, sparked outcry from the members of the public who packed the tiny meeting venue (which typically attracts only a handful of attendees outside of the city and committee).

The committee members, as well as attending members of the public, proposed bringing the dispute before the next meeting of the city council. Lemieux’s letter accompanying the discussion item backed up the city’s stated position.

The letter acknowledges the dispute between council and committee, as well as the committee members’ concern that the city is using Measure L to accommodate other expenditures. “Accordingly, certain committee members have expressed the desire to expand the scope of the committee to concern all aspects of the city budget, including review of prospective changes to the budget before they are made,” wrote Lemieux.

“ In our opinion, this exceeds the scope of the Measure L advisory committee.” He said the ordinance was drafted specifically to prohibit a generalized review of the budget. “The committee has a very specific focus with an intentionally limited purview.”

Lemieux stated that if committee members have concerns, they should be raised at the “appropriate” public meetings.

“Each committee member is also a citizen of the city of Ridgecrest and, as a citizen, has a right to inspect records of city government and comment freely upon them. If committee members have concerns about the budget generally, this information can be constructive and helpful when presented in the correct forum. However, in our opinion, it is inappropriate to use city resources to do so in the context of the Measure L Committee.”

Although the Brown Act generally prohibits a quorum (in the case of the committee, more than two) from discussing issues outside of publicly noticed meetings, Lemieux said there is a provision made for such cases as this when the council’s discussion will impact the committee.

Lemieux said that each committee member will be allowed to address the topic in front of the council.

Tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. and is held in City Council Chambers, is open to the public.

Other items on the agenda include additional appointments to council boards and commissions, as well as approval of consent-calendar items for setting a date for a public hearing to address unmet transit needs and a report and status update on the Ridgecrest Redevelopment Successor Agency.

The meeting is scheduled to be broadcast live on Mediacom channels 6 and 41. For additional information, visit www.ci.ridgecrest.ca.us.

Story First Published: 2013-01-23