Board Slows Charter Initiative

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supervisor Todd Spitzer's push to put a charter initiative before voters hit a snag Tuesday when his fellow supervisors decided to have a committee look at the proposal.

On a 3-2 vote, the board postponed adding the charter initiative to the March ballot until a committee could study it, a move that frustrated Spitzer. The supervisor is proposing the initiative as a way to prevent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from naming a successor if Spitzer wins an Assembly seat.

"Sending this out to a committee will only make this more complicated and it will be doomed for failure," Spitzer said. "What happened today with the 3-2 vote proved to me that the board majority have more faith in Gov. Davis than they do in the people of Orange County."

Spitzer is running to replace outgoing Assemblyman Bill Campbell (R-Villa Park). If Spitzer wins, Davis would probably choose a Democrat to serve the remaining two years of the supervisor's term--not a welcome prospect for the county's dominant political party. The Board of Supervisors, which is officially nonpartisan, hasn't had a Democratic member in 15 years.

Spitzer's charter plan would change the government from a general law county to a charter system, which would call for an election to fill a board vacancy rather than appointment by the governor.

At Tuesday's meeting, Spitzer called Davis an "out of touch" state official who is too "preoccupied with energy and other issues" to have the time to pick a successor.

Byron Tucker, a spokesman for the governor, didn't agree with Spitzer's assessment.

"If and when the governor is called upon to appoint a successor," Tucker said, "he will approach this the same way he approaches all candidates. He will find the most qualified candidate to fill the needs of the local community."

Although Spitzer portrayed the change to a charter as a simple one, other board members balked, saying they need further study.

"When I do research I like to know all the aspects and I want to study all ramifications this opens up," said board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad, who voted for further study.

Supervisor Chuck Smith said he wanted to know whether having a charter affects term limits. He also called Spitzer's idea "a rush to judgment," and wanted more time to weigh the proposal.

Spitzer, however, accused colleagues who opposed him of having hidden agendas with a charter committee. Smith immediately retorted: "I resent your accusation, young man."

Spitzer did not elaborate on what he thought those hidden agendas might be.

Richard Dixon, a Lake Forest city councilman and president of the Orange County Chapter of the League of Cities, told the board that the charter initiative should be put on the ballot because district elections support local representation.

"This isn't brain surgery," Dixon said.

An example of a governor's replacement involved former Supervisor Don Saltarelli's appointment, Dixon said.

Saltarelli, appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, was a popular choice even though he favored building an airport at El Toro and adding more jail beds at James A. Musick Branch Jail near Lake Forest, Dixon said.

"If he was up for reelection, he would have been pummeled on two issues: Musick Jail and the El Toro Marine base," Dixon said of Saltarelli.

Saltarelli, who was tapped to fill out the term of Gaddi H. Vasquez--who resigned in the wake of the county's $1.64-billion bankruptcy--chose not to seek election.

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