Monday, August 4, 2014
(Riverside County) Supervisors to change how CID program run
July 29, 2014
The Desert Sun
By Barrett Newkirk
While criticizing a grand jury for failing to recognize the benefits of a county-run grant program, Riverside County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to change the way they are running the controversial program.
The changes are outlined in the supervisors’ formal response to the civil grand jury, which in April found the county’s Community Improvement Designation program was fraught with abuse and poor oversight.
The county response, unanimously endorsed by the board on Tuesday, showed the staff will develop new policies for the CID program that include uniform application and follow-up procedures.
“Yes, we do have some cleanup to do,” Supervisor John Tavaglione said.
CID grants are paid out of discretionary spending accounts supervisors receive each fiscal year.
The program resulted in $32.4 million in awards since it began in 2005, according to the grand jury.
Supervisor John Benoit described the grand jury’s report as overly critical. But he agreed that it included worthwhile recommendations that were accepted in the county’s response.
“I think over the next six months we’ll have a chance to set some reasonable policies that set that tone and address some of those concerns,” said Benoit, who represents the Coachella Valley on the five-member board.
The suggested changes that county leaders supported include eliminating the special accounts supervisors kept at the county’s Economic Development Agency, which allowed them to hold on to CID money and then distribute it without the normal oversight.
“We’re not doing that anymore. Not that it was illegal, but it was not as transparent as it needed to be,” Supervisor Jeff Stone said.
Stone, a Temecula Republican who is campaigning for state Senate, accused the grand jury of having a “political bent.”
“Of all the reports that I’ve witnessed from the grand jury, this one was the most disappointing,” he added.
The county’s response was developed with help from former county District Attorney Grover Trask. It disagreed with some of the grand jury’s critiques, particularly about supervisors not following state law and the board’s own policies.
Barry Garron, a Temecula resident who served on the grand jury, said in an email to The Desert Sun on Tuesday that jurors spent six months researching the discretionary funds.
They also consulted with the California Office of Attorney General and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
“It was the opinion of the 2013-14 Grand Jury that members of the Board violated the California Political Reform Act numerous times,” Garron wrote in the email. “However, the language of the law violated is permissive and states elected officials should not use public funds to gain an unfair advantage in an election, rather than stating they shall not.”
The county dismissed some of the grand jury’s recommendations as unnecessary, including a request that grant money going outside the county require a separate vote. Another dismissed suggestion sought to stop supervisors from receiving individual recognition for the grants.
The county response suggested officials would create a policy asking recipients to recognize Riverside County for the grants, but left it open for supervisors to continue to be recognized individually.
Garron said the grand jury found that when cities or school districts supported events or nonprofits, elected officials were not named in most instances. County supervisors, however, are routinely named individually and given credit for taxpayer-funded activities.
“In one instance an event had 47 sponsors, and the only individuals named in a full page newspaper advertisement were the members of the Board of Supervisors,” Garron said.
Reach Barrett Newkirk at (760)778-4767, email@example.com or on Twitter @barrettnewkirk.