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Independent State Offices

March 12, 1994

As a strong supporter of reinventing state government and the sponsor of legislation to perform a top-to-bottom review of state bureaucracy, I take issue with Catherine O'Neill's column "The Millionaire's Club Is Off and Running" (Commentary, Feb. 16).

O'Neill's suggestion that three statewide offices--the controller, treasurer and secretary of state--be appointed by the governor rather than elected by the people fails to recognize the importance of independence from the executive branch.

For example, I recently uncovered gross fiscal mismanagement and possible embezzlement at Asilomar--a conference center located on state property near Monterey. Our audit, which revealed a scheme to drain Asilomar's treasury of funds, led to the firing of the facility's controller, the resignation of its general manager and a full-scale police investigation. I am also working with the state attorney general to see if Asilomar's board of directors might be held liable for this fiscal mismanagement.

This is just one of the many independent audits I have performed in the past seven years, audits that saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars. These aggressive audits of executive departments can best be performed by an independently elected controller--not one appointed by the executive branch.

In 1991 Gov. Pete Wilson tried to shut down the entire Richmond School District by denying the district an emergency loan to keep its doors open. If Wilson had gotten his way, thousands of children would have been without their neighborhood schools.

Instead, I rejected the governor's orders and sent Richmond the $19 million loan. The Wilson Administration fought me all the way to the state Supreme Court and lost. The schools stayed open, the children got their education and last month, for the first time in four years, Richmond filed a positive fiscal report with my office.

I agree that California must and should review every aspect of state government to make it more efficient. But let's not start by dismantling the independence of elected officials who provide fiscal independence and a check on the executive branch.

GRAY DAVIS

Controller, Sacramento

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