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Grand Jury Report on Supervisors

BY JEFF HORSEMAN STAFF WRITER April 29, 2014; 04:33 PM

Discretionary funds doled out by Riverside County supervisors to community groups have little oversight and allow supervisors to promote themselves and dine using taxpayer dollars, according to a new grand jury report.

The report released late Monday, April 28, criticized the five supervisors for not having strict processes in place for applicants seeking Community Improvement Designation funding. And the ground jury cited several examples of what it considered to be wasteful use of the funds.

The Board of Supervisors met Tuesday and most did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Supervisor John Tavaglione said he had yet to read the report.

Reached via email, Supervisor Marion Ashley wrote that he appreciates the jury’s suggestions and supports a standard application process, audits of expenditures and annual reports from fund recipients.

County spokesman Ray Smith said the county will respond to the report within 90 days as required by law.

“The use of funds was established specifically to assist community groups, the needy, victim advocacy groups, students and others – especially during the height of the recession when other public funding sources and private donations waned,” he wrote in an email. “Board members repeatedly have made it clear that those are priorities that deserve support.”

Verne Lauritzen, chief of staff to Supervisor Jeff Stone, said the supervisor doesn’t seek to promote himself when he allocates funding.

“It’s a serious, deliberate attempt to try to re-channel some public resources back into the community,” Lauritzen said.

The community fund program started in 2005 to help charities, county departments and other groups. Each supervisor gets an equal allotment of funds that is replenished annually. The current county budget includes $2.3 million in funds and over nine years, $32.4 million in funds has been distributed, according to the grand jury.

Requests to spend funding are usually on every board agenda and four out of five supervisors must approve them. The jury said it reviewed more than five years of expenditures and not once did a supervisor oppose a request.

The supervisors’ use of the funds conflicts with state law intended to deny incumbents an advantage, the jury’s report read. The jury said it found “numerous examples where supervisors used public resources to enhance their visibility and name identification with potential voters.”

In some instances, supervisors spent money to buy tables at galas and similar events, the report read.

Events financed by the money should list county taxpayers as a sponsor, Ashley wrote in his email.

Events paid for with community funding often listed a supervisor by name as a sponsor, the report read. While four of the five supervisors required applicants for funding to fill out a form, there is no follow-up on how the money is spent, the report added.

Hundreds of thousands of fund dollars went to nonprofit groups for constructions projects with little to no oversight, the report read. The jury also criticized supervisors for creating holding accounts in the Economic Development Agency to store leftover funds that would otherwise go back into the county’s general fund.

In addition, several nonprofit groups that got money were not registered or were suspended by the state attorney general’s office, meaning they could not legally accept funds, the jury reported.

The jury recommended abolishing the practice of recognizing supervisors who donate funding, improving oversight of how the money is spent, doing away with the EDA holding accounts and requiring nonprofit recipients to be registered.

Contact Jeff Horseman at 951-368-9547 or jhorseman@pe.com


Nancy Gall May 02, 2014 at 12:21 PM
Another reason for new blood on the board, a vote for Mark PepsiCo will be like a breath of fresh air.
Jeremiah May 02, 2014 at 01:13 PM
Trouble is, no matter who gets elected people will start pot-shotting at them as well, good or bad. That's the way politics is done today, unfortunately. And anyone with enough money to get elected is pretty generally put on the ballot by campaign donors manipulating the elections to get the make-up they feel is most profitable for them. Not right, but a fact of life ever since the Supreme Court decided to give person-hood to corporations and pacs, allowing them unlimited donating power. **** Jeremiah
desertpatriot May 05, 2014 at 08:50 AM
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2HwO2a265QvbzRwejk2bGdOUU0/edit

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