Council to consider new faces on oversight board

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The tenuous relationship between the Ridgecrest City Council and a committee appointed to oversee its allocation of Measure L funds faces a precedent-setting opportunity tonight when the two members whose terms expire this month are up for reappointment.

As part of last year’s campaign to pass a voter-approved sales tax to augment local funding of police and streets, city officials promised to establish an oversight board to monitor city spending.

Although members of the committee were appointed by the council, committee members established independence from the city early on through critical examination of city spending. Oversight members researched historical spending of police, streets and other services in order to ensure that the intended targets for augmentation were in fact benefiting from Measure L.

When members noted that the trend seemed to be reducing general fund support for police and streets and simply replacing it with Measure L, council members called the oversight members to task for “overstepping” their authority. (The committee has no legal power to override, only a political obligation to inform the public).

Mayor Dan Clark issued a letter of “revisioning” to the committee, articulating his expectation that it would limit the scope of its duties. The committee members sent a response that they believed they were functioning in the spirit under which the body was founded.

Citizens validated this by flocking to committee meetings and asking the members to continue functioning as ambassadors for public interest.

With the two one-year seats up for reappointment, members of the public have expressed concern that the council will simply replace the publicly critical members of the committee with those who will be less critical.

Since Andy Anderson’s sponsor, Steve Morgan, is no longer on the council, Mayor Dan Clark has asked Councilwoman Lori Acton to appoint his replacement. Acton publicly said that she would interview Anderson to determine whether he would be reappointed.

“I do hope to be reappointed. I found out that I had to reapply, but I did that last week,” said Anderson.

“Lori Acton was assigned to investigate my reappointment. That amounted to her asking if I wanted to. I said yes. That took care of that. Not sure who she reports to or what happens from here.

“We’ll see how honest the council is about having oversight. They have a great opportunity to get rid of some of their critics and appoint some lapdogs. But I don’t think that would be very good for them politically.”

Regardless of the council’s feelings, Anderson said he believes that the committee has fulfilled its pledge to the community in tracking the expenditures.

“I can say that the money has gone to police and streets. It may not have happened how some of us had envisioned, but I think it is better than it would have gone had a committee not been in place.”

Scott Garver, who was appointed by Vice Mayor Jason Patin, is also up for reappointment. Garver said he has also reapplied, but has not spoken directly to Patin about his appointment.

“He did go out of his way at the last council meeting to plant the seeds of change,” said Garver. “I think that Lori has recognized the value of continuity and credibility in reappointing Andy.

“I think that the committee members have demonstrated an independence from the people who appointed us. If the council were to change that now, I think that is asking for distrust from the community.”

Garver said he thinks that, even by the city’s own metric, Measure L allocations have not lived up to what was promised. He said early conversations with officials showed that the city’s position was as long as funding levels were maintained, rather than augmented as voters were led to believe, the measure was being used appropriately.

“At that time I just threw up my hands because I knew that with that mindset I was never going to agree with the city’s position.

“But one year and $1.3 million later we have two fewer police officers and have not paved one foot of road. That’s not even maintaining,” said Garver.

“The ship needs to be righted. But even if the city and the committee come to terms on this issue, I think the public wants to know that someone is looking out for their interest. There is a revelance that needs to be restored.

“Since I have been a part of the agitation, I think if I were to remain on the committee it would lend credibility if we come to a resolution. I voted for this tax,” he said.

“I voted for Measure L. I’d like to vote for it again. Right now I couldn’t. But I like to think that in the next four years we will be able to reestablish that trust. That’s exactly why I reapplied.”

Story First Published: 2013-07-17