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Golden State | CALIFORNIA DATELINE / ERIC LICHTBLAU

Fresno Schools Chief Says to Forgive Is to Hire

September 08, 1998|ERIC LICHTBLAU

Fresno County schools Supt. Pete Mehas has a message for students: Own up to your mistakes and you can be forgiven. Especially, it seems, if you have old pals who can get you a plum new job.

That's why the superintendent last month hired longtime friend Jan Biggs as a legal advisor to his office, even though Biggs recently got out of federal prison. Biggs was behind bars for bilking his old law firm out of as much as $235,000.

What Biggs did was "very stupid," Mehas acknowledges, but he has backed him nonetheless, attending Biggs' sentencing and visiting him in prison. And when Biggs needed a job, Mehas was there--mulling over the messy political consequences for months, he said, before appointing him to the $53,000-a-year public post. "I'm selfish. I wouldn't hire him just because of friendship, but I need good legal counsel," Mehas said in an interview. "And I wanted to send a message to the kids: If you fess up [to your misdeeds] and serve your time, there is another life thereafter. People forgive."

Forgiveness ends at the steps of the courthouse, however. Because Biggs is no longer a member of the bar, Mehas said, he can offer legal advice but can't appear in court.

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Lucky 13: What kind of kamikaze politico would dare go up against Proposition 13? Thankfully, despite a brand-new numerology for the state's ballot measures, no one will have to find out in the fall elections.

The state's interminable string of initiatives is starting over, numerically speaking, as the ballot numbers roll back from No. 227 to ground zero in November ("We're No. 1!" backers of a measure on contaminated properties can now rightfully declare).

The new propositions finalized last week only reach No. 11 this go-round. So it won't be until the next election cycle, in 2000, that anyone may risk the wrath of the political gods by declaring: "I oppose Proposition 13!" even if they're not really talking in blasphemous terms about the hallowed tax revolt of 1978.

Which all raises the cocktail party question: In the full-contact sport of California politics, are some ballot numbers simply too famous (or infamous) to be worn by pretenders? If Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, et al., can have their numbers retired, why not the power-hitting Proposition 140 (booting elected officials out of office after two terms), the flame-throwing 65 (requiring warnings on hazardous materials) or the spikes-high 187 (denying benefits to illegal immigrants)?

All merit consideration for a ballot measure Hall of Fame, says political consultant Joseph Cerrell, although he suggests that Proposition 13 might deserve an entire wing. "It rocked the nation. It's in a league of its own."

Longshot candidates like 37 (creating the state lottery) shouldn't feel too dejected, however. Remember, Dodger hurler Don Sutton didn't get his number retired until just a few weeks ago, and that was after he had made the baseball Hall of Fame.

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No-Go on Tow Glow: California's governors have always loved to gripe about the trivial bills the Legislature routinely sends over to sign. But rarely do they go off as vehemently as Gov. Pete Wilson did last week over a bill requiring tow truck companies and vehicle storage operators to remove chalk and other identification marks from impounded vehicles.

Seems that a driver who got her car out of storage was miffed by all the dirt and "graffiti" left on the windshield. (We've been there. It's a pain.) She was so upset by the nuisance--and the potential safety hazard--that state Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino) introduced the windshield-wiping bill on her behalf.

But Wilson vetoed it, calling it a "ridiculous waste" of taxpayers' money to enact such legislation. "What's next, legislation urging adults to tie their shoelaces?" the governor asked. "This bill is an argument for a part-time Legislature. Such 'make-work' bills ought not to be signed. It only encourages more of the same."

He signed his veto message, "Cordially, Pete Wilson," but that didn't mollify Ayala, who maintains that "the bill isn't as dumb as it looks." The legislator said the governor's language was "very, very insulting." . . . No word on whether the Democrats will introduce a shoe-tying bill in response. It might get tied up in committee.

EXIT LINE

"If we're going to breed horses or dogs for pleasure or show, we have an obligation not to eat them."

--William Hemby of the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, a group supporting Proposition 6, a November ballot measure that would make it a crime to sell horses for human consumption.

California Dateline appears every other Tuesday.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Big School, Little School

State officials are projecting a total K-12 enrollment of 5.8 million children statewide this fall. Here are California's five largest and five smallest public school districts in 1997-98, according to the state Department of Education:

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Rank County District Enrollment 1 Los Angeles Los Angeles Unified 680,430 2 San Diego San Diego City Unified 136,283 3 Los Angeles Long Beach Unified 85,908 4 Fresno Fresno Unified 78,166 5 San Francisco San Francisco Unified 61,007 990 Kern Blake Elementary 12 991 Siskiyou Sawyers Bar Elementary 9 992 Placer Emigrant Gap Elementary 8 993 Trinity Coffee Creek Elementary 6 994 San Benito Panoche Elementary 5

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Researched by TRACY THOMAS / Los Angeles Times

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