How About an Exam for Office Seekers?

Given the horrible decisions recently being made by elected officials why don’t we subject candidates for public office to a simple exam with the grades to be posted in the ballot pamphlet? Here are few questions that might be asked.

For those running for trustee in one of our over 1000 school districts: “Given a choice of spending $14000 on 200 new student textbooks or $14000 on a top-of-the-line espresso machine which would you choose?”

For those running for a seat in the California Legislature: “Does a state agencies’ practice of transferring employees in and out of positions for the purpose of inflating the departments’ budgets reflect good public policy?”

And for those running for a Los Angeles City Council seat: “Do you support the use of taxpayer dollars to settle frivolous lawsuits like the recent payout to trash collectors to compensate them for being denied the right to take naps in their trucks?”

The question for school board candidates is inspired by the Castro Valley Unified School District which just spent $14000 to buy an espresso machine. School board members describe it as an “investment” in the school. One board member defended the purchase saying the espresso machine will allow the district to cater its own events. Castro Valley residents may be surprised to learn that their school board has gone into the catering business.

Our question for candidates for the state Legislature is justified because it took an investigation by the Sacramento Bee to get lawmakers to respond to the problem of state agencies repeatedly transferring workers — some transfers lasting only a few days — for the sole purpose of keeping vacant positions on the books to collect tens of millions of dollars budgeted for the unfilled jobs. While lawmakers fell all over themselves blasting this practice there is little reason to believe that anything will change.

The question for city council hopefuls has as its origin the agreement by the Los Angeles City Council to pay $26 million to settle a suit by trash truck drivers who had been barred from napping in their trucks by city employment rules. Not only is this a lot of taxpayer money to fork over without a fight it identifies the city of Los Angeles as an easy mark and invites additional frivolous suits.

These are just samples of the foolishness for which government officials are responsible. Political insiders are likely to dismiss them as “small matters that are no big deal.” But the failure to do small things right can have major consequences just as the defective bolts installed in the new Bay Bridge (a problem that was detected in time) could have led to death and injury for hundreds of people.

Small things done poorly have the effect of reducing the efficiency of government increasing its costs to taxpayers and reducing the confidence the voters have in elected officials making real progress on solving public problems more difficult.

In addition to passing an exam to prove they are qualified to have the public’s trust maybe new officeholders should be reminded of the importance of doing small things well by being presented with a plaque with the words of legendary Coach John Wooden: “Little things done well is probably the greatest secret to success.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.