Alvarez aide forms committee to plan reform referendum
By Tom Harlan
County Mayor Carlos Alvarez's former campaign treasurer has created a political action committee to fund the mayor's plans for a referendum to reshape county government.
Jose "Pepe" Riesco, treasurer for the mayor's 18-month campaign, is heading Citizens for Reform, a committee created in December to build voter support for charter changes the mayor seeks, including adding significantly to the mayor's powers at the expense of the county commission.
"We want to ensure that our local government protects all those who are governed and not the governing," Mr. Riesco said, quoting the committee's mission statement. "That speaks volumes."
The committee seeks to put on the ballot procurement reform, higher commissioner salaries and more authority for the mayor's office over county departments, Mr. Alvarez said, adding that reform and accountability were significant issues during his campaign.
"I will just be part of the political action committee," he said.
Committee officials filed a statement of organization Dec. 27 that outlined 13 items, such as the names of the committee's officers and bank accounts, as required by the state's Division of Elections' 2004 Handbook for Committees.
Mr. Riesco and a treasurer are the committee's two officials, filling the minimum requirements to classify as a committee. The committee opened a bank account, Mr. Riesco said, that has started to accept contributions with the help of about 200 volunteers.
"We are getting phone calls and requests on a daily basis from volunteers who want to help out," he said.
The committee is starting to host fundraising events, Mr. Riesco said. Contributions, he said, will be used to carry out initiatives, fund committee expenses and run print and TV ad campaigns.
Committee officials hope to raise $500,000 to $1 million, he said, adding that it may cost about $1 million to get the needed petition signatures because media efforts may cost $400,000 to $500,000.
The committee is not targeting any group or individual, he said. Funds are to be used to collect signatures from 10% of the electorate, he said, or about 107,000 persons. The county's elections committee must certify the number of signatures needed to put a charter-changing referendum on the ballot.
But the committee is to try to exceed its goal by 10%15%, Mr. Riesco said, because some invalid signatures always are thrown out during certification.
"You want to create that cushion," he said. "We want to make sure that we don't fall short."
The committee doesn't expect problems achieving this quota, Mr. Riesco said, because most residents are for accountability in government.
"The mayor's campaign dealt with these issues from day 1," he said. "The mayor was elected on these issues."
The committee is not trying to point fingers at any county commissioners, Mr. Riesco said, but wants to put the issue in voters' hands to see whom they want to have governing powers.
"As a resident, the mayor has every right to form any committee that he needs to form to petition the government," said County Commission Chairman Joe A. Martinez. "It's up to the people from there."
Some commissioners have opposed the proposed changes, Mayor Alvarez said, but delivering services to citizens by improving the structure of government is more important than politics.
The mayor doesn't expect the commission's support, Mr. Riesco said, because commissioners have powers they own that they don't want to give up.
The committee's goal is to put the issues on the November ballot, Mayor Alvarez said, because there are three municipal elections on that ballot.
Though several steps need to be taken first and the commission would determine the date of voting, he said, he's working toward the November goal.
"There's no hidden agenda here," he said. "I'm just following through with what I promised the voters. I have a duty to present it, or try my best to present it, to voters and let them decide what type of government they want."