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Elsinore voters to decide whether city treasurer to remain elected

 

Last updated 11/3/2006 at Noon



The “F” doesn’t stand for finances, but the arbitrary lettering of Measure F might as well be. Lake Elsinore voters will settle the question whether the city treasurer shall be appointed or elected. A “yes” vote chooses appointment of the treasurer by city officials, while casting a “no” vote means the election of the treasurer shall remain in the hands of the voters.

In 2004, a five-member Mayor’s Electoral Reform committee met for about four months to review different city policies, including the selection of the city treasurer. After comparing cities with similar numbers in population, the committee recommended to the city council in a unanimous decision that the position of the city treasurer be appointed. The council then voted to put the issue before the residents in the next election.

Lake Elsinore is among half of the cities in the state that elects the city treasurer. In an April 2005 survey sponsored by the League of California Cities of the 484 cities in the state, 174 cities elected their treasurers and 187 cities made appointments to the office. On a grander scale, the office of the state treasurer will be decided in the upcoming November 7 election. Cities such as Huntington Beach, Palos Verdes, Hemet and Corona elect the city treasurer. The city treasurer is selected by appointment in the nearby cities of Temecula and Murrieta.

Former committee member Ruth Atkins is actively promoting the measure. The committee felt it was time for the city to appoint a fulltime financial professional with requisite experience to handle the city’s burgeoning coffers and budget of almost $40 million.

In the past, people have been elected to the office without the proper credentials, said Atkins. The city’s financial picture has become sophisticated and there are no guarantees an elected treasurer will be qualified for the job.

State law prohibits requirements for candidates running for the city treasurer office in general law cities like Lake Elsinore or in statewide office of the state treasurer.

The selection of an appointed city treasurer will allow the city to set standards for the office, she says. “When you can hire someone, the city can hire somebody who meets the requirements of the job,” said Atkins.

She cites several examples of poor performances by city treasurers, including the 1994 Orange County bankruptcy, which was the largest government agency collapse in US history, and the recent corruption scandals in cities in Los Angeles County. The common denominator in these financial disasters: an elected city treasurer.

Former city treasurer James Judziewicz agrees. “The city treasurer is mostly ceremonial,” says Judziewicz, who was appointed to the position in 2003 to fill an unexpired term of an elected city treasurer who resigned for health reasons. When he was treasurer, he says he represented the city at functions and served as a conduit between the public and city council members.

The treasurer has no real responsibility or day-to-day control over the city’s finances, he says, and input from the treasurer is advisory in nature. The city council bears the responsibility of spending the public funds wisely and providing the necessary oversight over the inner workings of the city’s finances, he said.

On the flipside of the coin, opponents of Measure F want the city treasurer to remain elected. In the city council race, both incumbents, city councilmen Thomas Buckley and Daryl Hickman, and all three challengers, Carole Feeney, Connie Soto and Phil Stephens, voiced their oppositions to the measure at recent candidate forums. The independent oversight provided by an elected city treasure is an important tool to safeguard the public’s right to question the handling of the city’s finances, they agreed.

Current city treasurer Peter Weber, whose term expires in 2008 whether or not Measure F fails, is also an advocate against the measure. When he campaigned in 2003, he promised voters he would delve into the city’s financial books and keep the public informed. Since taking office in 2004, he has been a persistent overseer in questioning the city’s expenditures. He was viewed as being overzealous by a former city manager who told him he was “looking too much into the city’s books,” says Weber, who earned his BA in mechanical engineering in New York and took accounting and finance-related courses at Cal Poly Pomona. He is an operations manager.

It was during one of his expeditions that he found the actual cost of the city-owned Diamond Stadium was $7 million more than reported, for a total of $38 million out of an original $12 million price tag. His investigations have also led to auditing of a community bond.

Weber believes the city treasurer needs to remain independent of a bread-and-butter paycheck from the city. “The treasurer needs to be independent,” he says, and operate without any financial ties to city hall. He receives a modest $150 stipend every month. City council members recently received a raise of $400 due to an increase in population.

Weber is a homeowner as well as a resident. “You need someone with the interests of the people at heart,” he said. “I look at things and see what they are.” Appointed officials may not necessarily live in the city, he says.

As the former city treasurer from 1995 through 1999, Dick Knapp thinks the city has changed in positive ways in recent years. He recalls when his treasurer’s report was limited to the three-minute public speaking time like any other citizen at city council meetings. He had to step up to the podium three or four times a night in order to complete his comments, he recalls.

He also double-checked numbers, like Weber. Knapp made the first discovery that the Diamond Stadium cost $31.1 million instead of $12 million.

An elected treasurer is important, he says, “for the oversight.”

Atkins observed, “The responsibility of the city treasurer function, whether appointed or elected, is to follow the laws of the state of California.”

 

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