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GUEST EDITORIAL: Part-time work, big-time pay

The Orange County Register

 


In a democracy, anyone in public life must operate with the utmost ethical integrity. That's why the immense compensation received by many members of California boards for doing little official business is simply scandalous. More than 300 of these boards have been formed to oversee a variety of activities such as waste management, health and utilities.

 

"At a time of multibillion-dollar deficits, 72 people on 14 state boards continue to earn six-figure salaries for what, in many cases, is part-time work with limited public interaction," reported a news story in Sunday's Orange County Register. "Critics see them as symbols of patronage and excess." The Register examined 80 recent appointees to the boards. Twenty-eight of the 80 had "no expertise in the areas they were hired to regulate," the article concluded. Thirty-six of the 80 reported incomes from "outside employment, such as political consulting or government work, evidence that their board jobs did not demand their full energy."

 

Two glaring examples: $117,818 to Carl Washington last year for showing up 57 times for meetings of the state waste management board. $99,000 to Tom Calderon for going to six meetings of the California Medical Assistance Commission.

 

The problem at heart is one of ethics, Judy Nadler said; the former Santa Clara mayor is senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. She said there are four areas of concern in each board appointment: Conflicts of interest. She said the public's perception is "that positions these are open only to insiders, and not what they were supposed to be" -- experts in a particular area of regulation. Transparency.

 

"It's not clear what level of transparency there is" on the boards, she said. The boards "are for the most part invisible." Accountability. Local planning boards and commissions work under the eye of local citizens. "It's not clear to me that is the case in the setup" of the state boards, she said. Compensation. "How we spend the money is an ethical issue," given that it is taxpayers' funds, she said.

 

Ms. Nadler pointed out that money saved by reducing board compensation could be redirected to some other purpose, such as keeping libraries open. Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Garden Grove, sponsored legislation in December to pay just $100 per diem to the members of 13 boards; a good proposal.

 

On April 26, the bill failed in the committee on business and professions, likely because legislative leaders appoint many of the board members. And Gov. Schwarzenegger, who famously declared his intention to "blow up the boxes" of the state government bureaucracy early on in his administration, has backed away from his 2005 State of the State proposal "to wipe out nearly 100 unnecessary boards and commissions, abolishing over 1,000 political appointments in the process."

 

Since both the governor and Legislature have stepped away from this desk-pounder of an issue, maybe the only way to address these excesses is through, you guessed it, a ballot measure in 2006.

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