Measure H committee members respond to conflict claims

02/19/2014 7:35 PM

02/19/2014 10:27 PM

Two members of the Measure H oversight committee who were recently criticized for being on multiple committees at the same time responded to those claims this week.

Atwater residents Eric Lee and Linda Dash were questioned by another committee member for serving on the oversight committee and two other commissions. Lee serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission and Dash was recently appointed to the Planning Commission.

Jim Price, co-chairman of the Measure H oversight committee, said it could be a “conflict of interest,” particularly because Dash is a sworn planning commissioner. He also claimed Dash receives compensation for serving on the planning commission.

Dash told the Merced Sun-Star she does not receive any money for serving on the planning commission.

“I chose not to be compensated because I did it for the city,” said Dash, 70. “It would be kind of crazy for me to be getting paid because I was one of the advocates for completely eliminating the compensation.”

Measure H, a half-cent tax hike for all transactions, passed with a 67.1 percent vote in March 2013. Officials said the tax revenue would be used to support public safety services in Atwater.

As part of the tax ordinance, Police Chief and City Manager Frank Pietro established a five-member citizens’ oversight committee and appointed its members. The committee members oversee how the money is spent.

However, disagreements arose about whether the two members should be allowed to serve on the committee because the ordinance stated members “shall not be current city of Atwater employees, officials, contractors or vendors of the city.”

“It’s not my personal preference to bounce these people off the committee,” Price told the Sun-Star in a recent interview. “It’s merely about getting it right.”

After lengthy discussions at its Feb. 10 meeting, the City Council directed the city attorney to revise the ordinance and clarify the definition of a city “official.”

Lee, chairman of the Measure H oversight committee, said the squabbles over the committee’s composition takes away from the mission of Measure H – to bolster public safety.

“It’s just a play to disrupt what’s going on. It certainly is frustrating because it deflects from what the purpose of the oversight board is,” said Lee, 62. “My personal feeling is I see absolutely no conflict of interest in this at all. But then again, it’s up to the City Council.”

City leaders will review the ordinance revision and consider expanding the Measure H oversight committee from five members to seven at the next council meeting Feb. 24.

An oversight committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in the council chamber at 750 Bellevue Road. The meeting is open to the public.

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