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Appointive Treasurer at Issue in W. Covina

October 30, 1986|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO | Times Staff Writer

WEST COVINA — Forest Tennant has become suspicious of politicians since he was first elected to the City Council in 1980.

Tennant said that is why he is the only councilman opposing a ballot measure on Nov. 4 that would make the elected city treasurer's position an appointive office.

Although he supported a similar proposition in 1979, which would have empowered the City Council to appoint West Covina's treasurer and clerk, Tennant says he will vote against the measure, Proposition JJ, on Nov. 4. The clerk's position is not affected by the measure.

'Can't Trust Government'

Tennant said he has changed his mind over the years because he has seen enough in public office "to indicate to me that you can't trust government."

"I know that I was on the wrong side in 1979," he said. "At that time I had more faith in government.

"As long as that treasurer is elected, the council won't start leaning on the treasurer" to show favoritism when investing the city's money, Tennant said.

Other council members disagree.

"If you had unscrupulous council members, you could have them appoint an unscrupulous treasurer," Mayor Chester E. Shearer conceded. But with "the quality of the council members and their divergence, you certainly dilute the possibility," he said.

City officials have used the impending retirement of City Treasurer Yvonne Calmes as a springboard to again bring the issue to the voters.

The 1979 proposition was defeated by a vote of 4,836 to 5,713.

Retiring Incumbent

Calmes, 62, was elected to the position in 1972 after serving for six years as deputy city treasurer. She said she will retire in October, 1987, six months before her fourth term expires.

Calmes said she supports appointment over election because of changes she has seen during her 20-year tenure with the city. Since 1972, the city's investment portfolio has risen from about $2 million to about $40 million, she said.

"I had not had any previous investment experience," said Calmes, a former purchasing agent with an electronics firm who as treasurer is charged with investing the city's funds.

"Probably what helped me during my tenure here was that the city in 1966 didn't have that much money to invest," she said.

She said she learned about her job through seminars conducted by municipal treasurer associations and through on-the-job experience.

Expertise Needed

Years ago, she might not have supported the effort to make her office appointive, Calmes said. But now, "because of all the expertise that is needed, with all the new investment vehicles that are open to (cities), I feel that it should be handled by some professional person, someone who has the expertise."

Calmes echoes the feelings of the four City Council members who support the proposition.

Councilwoman Nancy Manners believes it is difficult for the public to judge the credentials or expertise of a candidate for the city treasurer's office.

"I don't think the public can know," she said. "A person can say almost anything in a campaign. If he makes enough noise, spends enough money, then he can get elected."

Worried About Incompetents

Mayor Shearer said he is concerned about how much time it might take to get an incompetent treasurer out of office through the required recall vote.

"We're concerned because of the possibility of someone getting into the office that could do irreparable harm to the city's finances, and that it would take a lengthy process to do something about it," Shearer said.

"In essence, the city treasurer is a mini-dictator, making decisions without any oversight," Shearer said. "The potential is there for major problems."

Tennant said city officials put the proposition on the ballot because of their belief that "the public is not capable of selecting anyone who is sophisticated and competent enough to be treasurer. It is my opinion that the public is pretty smart in selecting officials."

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