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By Steve Danon
San Diego Union-Tribune investigative reporter Jeff McDonald has just been nominated for a “Golden Watchdog” award by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association for breaking the story how San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars from the Neighborhood Reinvestment fund to the San Diego Opera, Old Globe and other arts groups in return of thousands of dollars worth of free gifts and tickets.
While Slater-Price has steered public funds to those art organizations, she has voted to eliminate the Critical Hours Program which provides after-school activities that keep children off the street and out of trouble. In addition, she has voted to cut positions in the sheriff’s, district attorney and probation departments. With one in nine San Diego County residents out of work, it is increasingly clear to reset County spending priorities.
These gifts have attracted the interest of the news media and the public because it appears that Slater-Price has sought and received personal benefit, and the recognition of a private philanthropist, through the expenditure of these public funds. Her failure to disclose these gifts only compounded the problem, leading many to conclude that she tried to hide these exchanges in violation of law and to prevent public scrutiny and accountability. That is why the State of California’s Fair Political Practice Commission is conducting a full scale investigation on gifts she has received going back to 2006.
This scandal is not just one of hubris, but of self-aggrandizement. Slater-Price should ask organizations which have provided her with personal recognition for contributions of public tax funds to correct their records and public displays to recognize “San Diego County Taxpayers” as the true benefactors of their organizations. This is a serious breach of law and public trust that must be addressed.
To restore public confidence and transparency, Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price should show some leadership and call for gift ban from any organization that receives public funds from the County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. The perception that she has been distributing public funds for the purpose of receiving gifts and personal recognition damages public trust in County government. In a spirit of good faith, Pam Slater-Price should not personally benefit from allocating taxpayers dollars and should call for a permanent gift ban and should not further accept any gifts of value.
Steve Danon is a former member of the board of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and is a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 3 in 2012.