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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

If We Do Vote, Vote Potts

January 26, 2003

Editor's note: A court challenge of Measure V that continued into Saturday night made it unclear whether voters would go to the polls Tuesday to fill the 3rd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

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This is no way to vote for supervisor. Voters have been on tenterhooks up to the last minute while the courts decide whether there will even be an election. In this electoral mess, Jim Potts emerges as the smartest choice for the job.

The mess was created by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which placed a poorly designed measure on the March 2002 ballot to create a county charter. The measure won, ensuring that midterm vacancies on the board would be filled by voters rather than by the governor. A charter, essentially a constitution for municipal governments, should undergo as much public discussion and careful design as any founding document.

Instead, Measure V was shoved before voters as an expedient way for the state Republican Party to ensure that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis could not appoint a successor to former Supervisor Todd Spitzer, now a California assemblyman. Measure V also enabled the party to work on creating a political sinecure for Bill Campbell, whose term as an assemblyman had expired, creating the opening for Spitzer.

The result is five candidates for the nonpartisan 3rd District supervisor's seat with hugely disparate funding. Most are running shoestring campaigns with $10,000 or less. Campbell, a genial man who achieved some modest successes during his Assembly term, has a campaign fund of $230,000 and the Republican Party's backing.

Campbell is not, however, the kind of creative thinker the county needs to tackle tough issues ahead: budget cuts, the planning department fiasco, transportation, development on sensitive lands. Most of his opponents, though, lack the experience in public leadership to tackle the job at all. Postal worker Robert L. Douglas has never held elected office; neither has county worker Douglas Boeckler or professor William A. Wetzel.

Former Tustin Councilman and Mayor Jim Potts is the exception. He combines experience with a fresh way of looking at public leadership and an adamant stance against allowing special interests to run the show.

During 10 years on the Tustin council, Potts asked questions that seemed basic and yet cut to the heart of problems in his city. Why did the city's attorney, an outside contractor, collect municipal health and retirement benefits? The city subsequently changed its contracting procedures. He also pushed Tustin to save money by using competitive bidding on trash services and contracting out for tree trimming.

Potts' willingness to question the status quo might have helped the county avoid the crisis in its planning department. He would bring a critical eye and original thinking to the board as it takes on the task of cutting millions of dollars from county government.

Potts also would be a refreshing voice on clean government. He voted against a pay raise for the Tustin council and, back when cell phones were still a relative novelty, objected to council members being provided with the phones at taxpayer expense. He led an ongoing campaign against perquisites for public officials and successfully insisted that any such expenses beyond the mundane be brought up for public discussion. And he called for term limits and a ban on gifts to public officials from people doing business with the city.

A businessman and Irvine police sergeant, Potts funded his $10,000 campaign himself and is accepting no outside contributions. So voters have heard less about him than about Campbell, whose campaign has paid for expensive mailers. Nor did Potts have political insiders helping him sew up early endorsements from all the usual sources.

But then, the last thing the Orange County Board of Supervisors needs is business as usual.

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