Watchdog Group Chairman Says He Will Step Down

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ravi Mehta, chairman of the watchdog state Fair Political Practices Commission whose resignation had been demanded by two fellow commissioners, says he plans to quit soon.

Mehta, a former Orange County prosecutor who was appointed to the four-year post by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, took the day off Wednesday and was unavailable for comment.

Sean Walsh, Wilson's spokesman, said Wednesday that Mehta alone made the decision to leave a "tough and thankless" post and "we wish him well." Walsh said Wilson has "a number of exceptionally well-qualified candidates" in mind to succeed Mehta when the resignation becomes official, probably in two months.

Gary Huckaby, Mehta's spokesman, said "recent events" played into Mehta's decision to resign early.

But Huckaby insisted that leaving the $103,000-a-year post "is something [Mehta] has had in the back of his mind for some time, despite the events of the last few weeks."

Those events included a speech Mehta gave to lobbyists attending an ethics training seminar at which he questioned the constitutionality of Proposition 208, the campaign finance reform initiative enacted by voters last November. Mehta's agency is responsible for implementing the measure and defending it in federal court.

Mehta also spoke in apologetic tones about the initiative's impact on his agency, noting jokingly that some critics had referred to him as the "eviscerator" of Proposition 208.

In the aftermath, two fellow FPPC commissioners called on him to resign, which he refused to do.

Also, supporters of Proposition 208 accused Mehta of eroding the state's legal case and demanded that Wilson remove him. The governor defended Mehta, but influential administration officials said privately that Mehta should find other work.

Mehta, who has 1 1/2 years left in his term, told the Sacramento Bee that he had been contemplating quitting for some time. He did not say when he would be leaving, but sources told the newspaper that they expect Mehta to give up the post within two months.

Recently, Mehta has been looking for job possibilities at law and lobbying firms, the newspaper said.

Mehta was controversial from the beginning of his tenure. New at the job in 1995, he drew criticism from fellow commissioners for assuming the powers of the commission's executive director, a then-vacant post.

He also was criticized by colleagues for performing private legal work for Wilson's then-chief of staff, Bob White, at the same time the FPPC was investigating a Wilson appointee, state agriculture Secretary Henry Voss.

Mehta said his departure had nothing to do with the criticism from other board members and that Wilson did not pressure him to resign.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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