Riverside officials narrowly decided Tuesday night, Aug. 2, to ask voters if they want an appointed watchdog to investigate allegations of fraud and wasteful spending in the government of the Inland Empire’s largest city.
The Riverside City Council voted 4-3 to place on the March 2024 ballot a measure that – if approved – would create a inspector general position to be appointed by the city council.
The motion to put the question before voters in a little more than a year and a half was approved 4-3, with Council Members Erin Edwards, Ronaldo Fierro, Chuck Conder and Steve Hemenway voting yes.
Council members Clarissa Cervantes, Gaby Plascencia and Jim Perry voted no.
Cervantes said she couldn’t support the motion because the question should go to voters this fall. An earlier motion to place the measure on the November ballot failed.
Fierro made the motion to wait until 2024.
“This is a big change,” Fierro said, saying the city could use the extra time to refine the plan and make preparations for explaining the measure’s purpose to Riverside residents.
He said the position is needed.
“Representative government can’t work if people don’t trust it,” he said. “The goal of this is to build public trust.”
Hemenway said the purpose of the post wouldn’t be only to look for fraud, but also to help the city operate more efficiently.
Perry, who voted no, said that “from the very beginning I had concerns about this program, and I still do.”
Perry said he worried about the impact that creating an inspector general’s office would have on Riverside’s tight budget.
A city report stated that, while the cost is unknown, the office’s annual budget would exceed $ 500,000.
Perry also said the city ought to require that candidates for the position meet extensive job qualifications.
“I don’t think this should be a position where you are learning on the job,” he said.
The council debated the idea at length in April and rejected then the idea of making the inspector general an elected post.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Jason Hunter, who has raised many concerns about city spending practices and had called for an elected inspector general, said he did not want “an appointed position that gives us the illusion of oversight.”
Seeing that some council members seemed reluctant to approve the inspector general proposal, Charter Review Committee Chair Pete Benavidez, who has been helping develop and refine the idea for months, urged the council to set aside concerns and move forward.
“What we’re asking is to let the voters decide,” he said.
Benavidez said the charter committee wasn’t presenting the council with something unreasonable, but rather an idea that has been used by other cities – some larger in population and some smaller.
“Is there risk? Certainly there is risk – in everything we do, ”he said.
Here is what Riverside voters will see on their March 2024 ballot.
“Shall the measure to amend the Charter of the City of Riverside to include a new Charter officer, the Inspector General, appointed by the City Council, with the powers and duties to investigate fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts within city government and to provide annual reports on findings and recommendations, with an appropriate budget and with further powers and duties of the Inspector General set by ordinance of the City Council be adopted? “
Source: City of Riverside