ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Measure T: A Small, Good Change

After Orange County filed for bankruptcy 15 months ago, many voters demanded a change in government. When they go to the polls March 26 they will get a chance to achieve that, in the form of Measure T. The proposal deserves support.

Like 44 of California's 57 other counties, Orange is governed by general law, a compendium of regulations established by the state. Thirteen counties are governed by charters, which are individually crafted sets of laws.

Switching Orange County's form of government would be a modest improvement. It would not guarantee better government or more prosperous public agencies: Los Angeles County is a charter law county and has suffered enormous financial woes in recent years.

In large part, the bankruptcy has been blamed on the disastrous investments of former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron. He has pleaded guilty to several felonies and awaits sentencing. The proposed charter would let the Board of Supervisors appoint the treasurer, auditor, public administrator and clerk. Currently those posts are elective.

Other positive elements of the proposed charter would be limiting supervisors to two terms of four years each; making it easier to contract for government work, and establishing a strong chief executive officer.

As we have said before, what counts for Orange County is not the form of government but the people who staff it. Well-qualified men and women who believe that government is a public trust are needed more than ever. The bankruptcy further eroded voters' already crumbling belief in government.

Many who rightly were outraged by the bankruptcy unfortunately have heaped scorn on the proposal for charter government. But their fears that it could lead to tax increases appear unfounded.

Desires to keep positions elective are understandable, though the chances of getting a treasurer competent in finance would seem to be better if he or she were appointed rather than elected.

Rejection of Measure T would mean a missed chance for a small change in government. A companion measure, U, would expand the Board of Supervisors from five to nine members if the charter proposal passed. U should be voted down. What is needed is not more supervisors, but better ones.

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