A record 19 residents applied to serve on a city audit committee to oversee spending of an estimated $2 million in annual revenue from a voter-approved tax measure.
Faced with such a wealth of talent, Mayor Toni Iseman won her colleagues approval to expand the panel to seven members from the original five this past Tuesday, Jan. 31, during a special meeting to interview and appoint volunteers to seven different advisory committees.
On the Measure LL Committee, council members passed over Ara Hovanesian, a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court; Dave Arnold, a former chief financial officer; and Alex Lintner, president of a national credit bureau division. Also rejected for the committee were Emil Monda and Judie Mancuso, two opponents of Measure LL, which hiked the hotel bed tax on guests to 12 percent from 10 percent.
The measure faced little opposition this past November and passed easily, with 79 percent of the local vote.
The hotel tax ballot measure, titled Vital Services Measure, states that the money will be used to “protect beaches from pollution and provide fire, police protection and emergency response, parking, utility undergrounding to prevent fire and power outages and other services and improvements.”
In his application, Hovanasian said critics have characterized LL funds as a “slush fund” because the council chose not to identify specific uses. He believes the committee’s oversight will provide public assurance that funds are spent as directed by elected officials, says Hovanesian, also a CPA who has audited government entities.
The council appointed Julian Harvey, Matt Lawson, Anne McGraw, Charity Morsey, Deborah Schlesinger, Peter Stevenson and John B. Thomas to five-year terms that began Feb. 1. The committee will review expenditures of the Measure LL fund and provide a public report.
Defeated council candidate Judie Mancuso, among those who voiced opposition to the measure for its lack of specificity, expressed little surprise over being passed over though her candidacy received 3,800 votes during the recent election. She did receive one appointment vote from council member Steve Dicterow.
“I felt there was a chance they could rise above cronyism and do what would really be good for the committee,” said Mancuso, criticizing council members for appointing Lawson, who contributed financially to the LL support campaign and served as its treasurer, and McGraw, a bookkeeper whose run for city treasurer was rejected by voters nearly two to one.
“Forget about me; there were powerhouses in the room and people who had never been part of the system,” said Mancuso, who were bypassed and more qualified.
An animal rights advocate, Mancuso serves on a state veterinary board where members are cautioned to avoid even the perception of conflict, which she thinks exists in allowing advocates for the measure to oversee its spending.
Iseman disagreed with that assessment. “There is no economic benefit” by committee members in their function as audit overseers, she said. Iseman said she had greater reservations over potential appointees who had opposed the measure, rather than its supporters, because of the possible clash of personalities.
While council members posed few questions to oversight committee applicants, they quizzed others more thoroughly in a less formal setting established last year by Council member Robert Zur Schmiede. “I’ve never seen such a strong group,” he said of the applicants, which he described as “the gift of the baby boom.”
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