Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 | It isn’t exactly a secret that the county supervisors have each had at their disposal $2 million of taxpayer funds to spend however they please.

Throughout the county, there are baseball fields, schools, parks and any number of different organizations that serve to better our quality of life that have all benefited from the supervisors’ spending of these funds.

The list of groups that have enjoyed the fruits of the supervisors’ largesse is very long. Some of them are more obviously deserving of taxpayer funds than others. But under the system as it stands, only the county supervisor is empowered to spend those funds.

But last week, we learned that Supervisors Ron Roberts and Pam Slater-Price will be taking lavish trips abroad this month thanks to the support of the organizations they showered with these funds. The news opened a window into another truth: The supervisors personally benefit greatly from their slush funds as well.

The supervisors are the ones who individually receive the thanks and adoration of the groups to whom they write checks. Their names appear on plaques and posters expressing gratitude. They are personally hailed in newsletters and individually praised for writing the checks out of their slush fund.

In Roberts and Slater-Price’s case, they received more than admiration – they got all-expenses-paid trips abroad.

Out of his fund, for instance, Supervisor Roberts has given the San Diego World Trade Center $20,000 this year and $530,000 since 2002. Now, the World Trade Center is sending Roberts on a $20,000 trip to China.

Slater-Price has given $188,000 in taxpayer funds to the nonprofit organization that runs Mainly Mozart. Now, Mainly Mozart has extended Slater-Price one of its $6,000 invitations compliments of the Austrian Tourism Office.

Would these two be offered the trips if they haven’t lavished taxpayer funds on the organizations? No.

This means, of course, that taxpayer funds are helping send our elected officials on junkets.

If it’s truly in the interest of county government that they travel to these far off lands, than the board as a whole should make that determination and put it on record that they want to spend money on this. If not, the supervisors should pay for their own vacations.

But there’s a larger issue. Each supervisor should not have control over so much taxpayer money with only their good judgment to keep the program in check. Elected officials are inherently political people and they know that the money they hand out will be recognized and appreciated by community leaders. What better way to generate support from an important community leader than to hand his or her organization a check for $50,000?

While some of the programs the supervisors support may be deserving of taxpayer support, a system of checks and balances should be in place to make sure taxes are spent wisely and efficiently. No one person, no matter how high-minded or intelligent, should be entrusted to hand out so much of the public’s money to whomever they please.

Slater-Price and Roberts should not only pay for their own trips, they should lead the effort to abolish the slush funds they used to get the trips as well.

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