Public support for Measure S — Selma’s sales tax increase for police and fire services — is “quickly fading” under clouds of controversy, Selma resident Louis Franco told the city council last week.

He said some people believe that monies from Measure S have been “misappropriated.” One solution: Have a citizens’ oversight committee make sure — and publicly report — that those monies are properly spent, Franco said.

Such a committee already exists, and it’s supposed to hold public meetings at least twice a year and issue a report at least once a year to the city council, according to the Measure S ordinance.

The existing oversight committee should meet more regularly and give more reports to the council, said City Manager D-B Heusser.

Why isn’t the committee meeting more often?

“They’ll say it’s because I’m not calling them to meet,” Heusser said.

Dr. Stanley Louie, chairman of the existing oversight committee, said  the committee has publicized its meetings, but no citizens have attended. “What I have seen is the lack of interest in the details of what [Measure S] was designed to do,” Louie said.

Franco’s idea for the oversight committee — as presented to the city council on May 7 — calls for:

• The committee to meet every three months.

• The city manager, finance director, police chief and fire chief to attend all the meetings.

• The committee to review the expenditures and budgets of the police and fire departments as well as any other spending related to Measure S.

Finally, according to Franco’s idea, Measure S monies could be released only after the oversight committee had signed off —  verified and publicly reported to the council — that the expenditures meet Measure S guidelines.

Franco has asked the city council to act on his ideas at a future council meeting.

Heusser said the “sign off” requirement could be a problem because it might give power to the oversight committee that belongs to the city council. Franco said he only wants to make sure that elected officials are aware of how Measure S monies are spent.

He said something needs to happen to restore public confidence in Measure S. He called it “a valuable resource in Selma’s navigation” through the recession. However, Franco noted, the measure has been “embroiled in controversy.” Furthermore, he added, “With each controversy, the facts get distorted and the community is filled with half truths, which are difficult to disprove due to the lack of transparency.”

Mayor Ken Grey praised Franco for choosing to get involved in city government. Regarding some of Franco’s comments, Grey said:

• The “controversy” surrounding Measure S stems from “people who want to take shots at how the city is operating.” Grey said 100 percent of Measure S funds have been spent on public safety.

City financial consultant Steve Yribarren told the city council on May 7 that there would be 10 fewer police officers and firefighters without Measure S. The city also bought 10 new police cars and a new fire engine with the measure’s funds, Yribarren said.

• The transparency mentioned by Franco is actually a need for city leaders to better communicate to the public about Measure S, Grey said: “People need to be reminded because there’s a tendency to forget” what the measure has accomplished.

Public suspicions about Measure S might not die down until Selma recovers from the recession and other financial problems, the mayor said.

Franco was one of several citizens who spoke out about public safety spending in Selma in the mid-2000s. That led to Measure S going before Selma voters in November 2007.

The measure provides for a half-cent sales tax increase to supplement city spending on public safety services.

The reporter can be reached at dhoagland@selmaenterprise.com.

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