VENTURA COUNTY: Supervisors Thwart Tobacco Initiative
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors yesterday declined to place an initiative on the November ballot that would give the county's $261 million tobacco settlement to private hospitals, the Ventura County Star reports. The move set off a legal battle, as the board unanimously voted to sue Community Memorial Hospital for sponsoring an "invalid" measure. Arguing that the initiative would "unconstitutionally usurp the board's authority to enact the budget," Supervisor Frank Schillo said: "I personally am convinced this is an illegal initiative, and I would be derelict in my duty to put it on the ballot. I think we owe it to the public to let them know we think it's illegal. Let's let the court decide on the merits of the initiative" (O'Donnell, 6/21). Supervisors contend that the CMH proposal fails to provide legal assurances that the money will go to health care for the poor and does not "provide for any significant oversight of how the money is managed." Board Chair Kathy Long said: "We have drawn a line in the sand. It's a line we'll all draw some criticism from, but I'm convinced voters will see through this ... wrong, wrong, wrong initiative" (Talev, Los Angeles Times, 6/21).
You Sue Me, I'll Sue You
Michael Bakst, executive director of CMH and the initiative's drafter, called the board's action "outrageous" and vowed to sue the county to "ensure the people have a right to vote" on the measure (Ventura County Star, 6/21). He asked, "If I cannot trust my supervisors to protect my right to vote, how can I trust [them] to protect my health care?" County Clerk Richard Dean, who oversees elections, also is considering legal action against the county and will investigate whether he is allowed to place the measure on the ballot in defiance of the board's direction. Dean said, "In my view, the board clearly exceeded its authority in ordering me not to place this on the ballot. Recent court cases show only a judge can direct the county clerk to remove an initiative, and that can only be done after compelling justification is shown by the county." But Assistant County Counsel William Moritz said the initiative violates a state law prohibiting gifts of public funds and would "bind the fiscal powers of future boards and therefore interfere with essential government operations." He maintained, "Where an initiative threatens to disrupt government, the board has the authority to not put it on the ballot" (Los Angeles Times, 6/21).