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Orange County Focus

Countywide : Wanted: Watchdogs to Guard Measure M

August 29, 1990|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN

A group of former members of Orange County grand juries is soliciting applications for a citizens' watchdog committee to monitor spending of revenue under Measure M, the proposed half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation improvements on November's countywide ballot.

Although voting on the measure is more than two months away, the Grand Jurors Assn., under contract to the Orange County Transportation Commission, faces a Sept. 28 deadline for collecting applications for service on the Measure M watchdog panel.

The group has been running newspaper ads, and officials are visiting college campuses in hopes of promoting diversity among applicants. Not coincidentally, the effort provides added campaign exposure for Measure M at a time when little overt campaigning is occuring.

OCTC Executive Director Stanley T. Oftelie said Measure M was structured to allow a citizens' watchdog panel to be selected before the Nov. 6 election "so that people will be able to see whom they're going to get" to enforce the measure's provisions.

But the composition of the oversight committee actually won't be known until Nov. 15, when eight of the nine committee members will be selected by lottery, with rules requiring that each supervisorial district be represented. The ninth member will be the panel's chairman, Orange County Auditor-Controller Steven E. Lewis.

Committee duties would include ensuring that revenue from the sales tax increase is spent according to the plan spelled out in the ballot measure; that the county and its 29 cities meet eligibility requirements for sharing the proceeds by adhering to the measure's growth management requirements; and that voters approve changes in transportation funding priorities.

The proposed oversight committee is a "most unusual creation in government," said former grand juror Ginger Reed, chairwoman of the group soliciting applications.

County officials included creation of the citizens' oversight panel in Measure M after public opinion surveys showed that voters don't trust them to spend tax proceeds wisely.

Some critics contend that there are too many loopholes in Measure M that would undercut the effectiveness of the citizens' panel and that automatic inclusion of the auditor-controller is potentially illegal.

The measure's backers argue that they struck the best deal they could while under pressure from some city council members who did not want a citizens' panel at all.

Information and applications for citizens' panel membership are available by calling (714) 835-6209 or writing to 1651 East 4th St., Suite 244, Santa Ana 92701.

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