News Article, East County Californian, 01-11-2007
COPS to police local government boards
By Derek Shaw
The East County Californian
Citizens Oversight Panels are being organized to “police” officials, boards, councils and planning groups in East County. Volunteers are encouraged to apply for a position to monitor local politics.
Reasonable oversight by independent watchdog groups can curb shady activity, keeping officials honest and exposing corruption. No COPS have been formed in San Diego, but the hope is that forming the panels in East County will spark a regional movement.
“The gerrymandered districts in most areas of the county result in little turnover of elected officials,” said Raymond Lutz, president, of the East County Democratic Club, the main sponsor of COPS. “We're worried about those few questionable votes when elected officials make decisions for personal gain, to benefit their friends and campaign contributors, or to promote their personal religious beliefs.”
Lutz has accused EI Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis of handing over the East County Performing Arts Center to Christian Community Theater without a proper bidding process and giving away city-owned property to condo developer Daryl Priest in lieu of using the land for a new police station.
“I think it's a very positive movement in an age where the government is too much at an arm's distance,” said Larry Howe, Eastern regional director for the San Diego Democratic Party. “Special interests take advantage of the absence of accountability... radical conservatism is simply a disproportionate representation of East County.”
COPS sit in on public meetings and watch over local governmental bodies, becoming aware of the issues and standards of operation.
This process will document the dirt before it gets swept under the rug, which may force voters to think twice about their allegiance and conviction.
Ultimately, Lutz seeks to balance the registration polarity in the 52nd district, and level the playing field for Democratic candidates who lack visibility and clout in elections against multi-term incumbents.
“The more people are informed and politically active, the better a community becomes, and the more responsive officials will be to their constituents,” said Democrat Mark Hanson, who recently lost to incumbent Dennis Hollingsworth for state senate. “As the public starts to look at concerns from both sides, the issues will become less demonized and better understood.”
The panels have no official authority but empower average citizens by providing tools to engage in the political process.
COPS will issue purely symbolic citations to elected officials for egregious decision making, thereby alerting everyone to the fact that inappropriate government sanctions are an everyday occurrence.
Stemming from a request by Councilman, Bob McClellan, controversial videos ran over the course of
four years on EI Cajon's public access channel, channel 24.
Produced, by right-wing activist David Barton, the short films included “The Role of Pastors & Christians in Civil Government” and “Americas Godly Heritage,” and
combined U.S. history lessons with Bible verses.
The segments ran regularly until late 2006, when Lutz complained they violated the Constitution and promoted an evangelical revisionist view of history.
The Barton videos associate the rise in teen pregnancy, violent crime and divorce to a 40 year-old ban on public school prayer.
“I welcome any constructive criticism that saves taxpayers money and makes our government more efficient,” said Mark Lewis. “I'm not concerned or threatened by COPS because the volunteers chosen will be the same people who normally stir the pot anyway...I'm anxious to see if the Democrats will actually produce or just continue mouthing off.”
He argued that it shouldn’t be called a citizen oversight panel because not only does that imply objectivity and bipartisanship, but it also disguises the partiality of an organization operated by and for Democrats.
Not only were no Republicans solicited for participation, only East County Democratic Club members are eligible to vote for panel members. Thus, few if any conservatives will be elected to a panel designed to be representative of the entire community.
“We're setting up our own side government and taking this area back over,” Lutz said.
Regardless of the politicizing that will inevitably occur, COPS should improve the efficiency, attendance and receptiveness of local board meetings.
If elected officials know the public is paying attention and keeping score, they are more likely to make fair, responsible decisions.
The responsibilities of COP members are specified and limited so that the task isn't overwhelming.
Each panel will have a chair and co-chair and presumably enough participation to cover all the sitting body's members.
Each COP volunteer will coordinate to attend as many meetings as possible and make summary reports to the website for public review.
Download an application to become a COP from www.eastcountydemocraticclub.org and submit it prior to the January 26, 2007 deadline.
The election meeting will be held. on Sunday, January 28th at 3:30pm at . the Rancho San Diego Library community room.
-- Raymond Lutz
- 12 Jan 2007