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Ventura County

Bennett Pushes to Halt Meeting Stipends

Supervisors: He calls accepting pay for service on other commissions a form of double dipping.

July 13, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying fellow supervisors shouldn't be double dipping, Steve Bennett said Thursday that he will push to prohibit board members from collecting money for serving on other Ventura County commissions.

"We shouldn't be doing it," Bennett said of the stipends, generally $50 to $100 per meeting, for participation on the boards. "It's another example of double dipping by higher-paid county employees that I think erodes public confidence in the process."

Supervisors earn about $85,000 per year plus benefits.

Bennett's plan drew a mixed reaction.

Taxpayer advocate Jere Robings hailed it, saying of Bennett, "He is going to come out looking like the champion of the taxpayer."

Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University, said Bennett is showing the sort of acumen that will broaden his base of supporters and establish him as a board leader.

But Bennett has frustrated some of his colleagues, who feel he is willing to tarnish their reputations to score points himself with voters.

"He's taking advantage of the situation, trying to paint a picture of himself as being the one who really watches the dollar," Supervisor John Flynn said. "He's trying to paint the rest of the board as being loose spenders."

Bennett's crusade began a week ago, when he filled in for Supervisor Frank Schillo, the board chairman, at a meeting of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

The committee was set to consider whether to raise members' stipends from $50 to $100. Bennett, however, moved to exempt supervisors from receiving any payment at all.

The move irritated Schillo, who also draws $100 per county Retirement Assn. Board meeting, and Flynn, whose work as chairman of the Assessment Appeals Board pays $100 to $200 each meeting, depending on how long it runs.

Their discontent could come to a head on Tuesday, when the supervisors are set to discuss Bennett's proposal for the first time. Schillo quipped that he may offer an amendment stripping supervisors of their entire salaries and making them "citizen legislators."

"Why take any compensation?" he said.

Supervisor Judy Mikels doesn't accept stipends for her participation on local boards, but does draw $120 for attending each meeting of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

She said Bennett raises legitimate issues for a debate, but she criticized his issuance of a news release promoting his plan.

"When people go out and do these things as press releases, it says, 'Look at me: I'm doing the right thing,' and I really have a problem with that," she said. "I don't know that you get the best public policy outcome, and I don't think it puts all of the board members on equal footing."

Only Supervisor Kathy Long, who said she does not accept stipends for any board memberships, is promising to support Bennett.

"I personally feel the Board of Supervisors are full-time, well-compensated board members and I'd support a policy that we not take additional compensation on boards we are assigned to participate on," she said.

Bennett said the criticism surprised him.

"I'm not personalizing this for anybody," he said. "But I don't know how you change the policy without bringing it up. It wasn't like I thought, 'Hmm, what can I come up with that will make people look bad?' I can't do anything about how it makes some people feel."

Gooch said Bennett's move seems motivated both by ideology and politics.

"He's positioning himself very interestingly, kind of as a fiscal watchdog, something Schillo had always positioned himself as," Gooch said.

"Schillo no longer appears like the guy to look to if you want to save a penny. In fact, he finds himself in a defensive position.

"I don't know if he wants to bounce Schillo off the pedestal--but I think he'd like to share it."

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