[Kern County] Grand jury recommends City Council select sales tax committee members at 'random' for fairness and transparency

A Kern County grand jury is saying members of Bakersfield’s sales tax oversight committee should have been chosen through “random drawings” to ensure fairness and transparency in the selection process.

In a report released Wednesday, the grand jury detailed its investigation into the process the Bakersfield City Council went through to choose the nine members of the independent oversight committee.

In several rounds of voting that occurred in February, the council used a unique approach to whittle down the 82 Bakersfield residents that applied for a position on the committee.

During the first round, each council member voted for nine of the applicants. Any of the applicants who received four or more votes were given a position on the committee, and those who did not receive any votes were eliminated.

The rounds continued until all nine positions had been filled.

“The voting process was used in hopes that only the ‘best of the best were selected,’” the report said.

However, at the end of the voting process, seven of the nine committee members had been chosen from a list provided to the city by a coalition of Bakersfield business and public safety groups that included the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Kern County Taxpayers Association, Bakersfield Association of Realtors, Bakersfield Police Officers Association and the Bakersfield International Association of Firefighters.

Many of the committee members had ties to those organizations, leading many in Bakersfield to believe the voting had been unfair.

“After the Citizens Oversight Committee was selected, public complaints began to surface,” the report said. “The consensus of the complaints is that the selection process was not fair because the Council relied heavily on Coalition recommendations and did not provide transparency.”

A better method, at least according to the grand jury, would be for the council to merely select at random any of the 82 applicants for the committee.

The alternative would likely have leveled the playing field for all those who applied, while potentially ignoring other factors such as an applicant’s level of experience and skill.

Councilman Bob Smith defended the council's voting method, which he proposed.

"There are obviously people who shouldn't be on there," he said, referring to the 82 applicants the council selected from. "And there are people that have better qualifications. Randomly picking out of a hat makes no sense to me."

He said the method used by the council was fair, and was used in other circumstances.

Council members used the voting method because they worried the large number of applicants would make voting on each individual committee seat too cumbersome.

One member of the oversight committee still needs to be added. Pritesh Patel, who was selected by the council in February, resigned from the committee before the first meeting, citing a busy schedule.

The council is set to add the new member in May.

Applications are still being accepted at the City Clerk's office.

Committee members serve three year terms, meaning the council will need to select an entirely new committee in 2022, when the term limits expire.

The grand jury recommended the council stagger the committee members' terms in four-year periods to avoid having all new members every three years.

April 10, 2019

Bakersfield.com and The Bakersfield Californian

By Sam Morgen