City Council OKs Concept of Permanent Watchdog for Riverside Government
A proposal to create an inspector general’s office with the goal of ferreting out fraud, waste and abuse in Riverside city government will be put before voters in 2024, as a proposed amendment to the City Charter.
The Riverside City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to submit the question to residents in the March 2024 primary election, based on recommendations from the Charter Review Committee.
The proposal was first considered as a potential ballot measure in the November general election, but the council decided the timing wasn’t right because some of the finer details related to the inspector’s budget and other matters had not been resolved.
According to the council agenda, the ballot question will read: “Shall the measure to amend the Charter of the city of Riverside to include a new charter officer, the inspector general, appointed by the city council, with the powers and duties to investigate fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts within city government and to provide annual reports on findings and recommendations, with an appropriate budget and with further powers and duties of the inspector general set by ordinance of the council, be adopted?”
The Charter Review Committee conceived the proposal based on findings that an inspector general would be beneficial. Members found that having an independent entity, removed from council and mayoral influence, would be ideal in promoting cleaner, more effective and efficient government.
According to a committee working group statement, the inspector general should “have the power and duty to provide a full-time program of investigation, audits, inspections and operational performance evaluations in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards.”
The group further emphasized the need “to provide increased accountability and oversight of entities of city government, special districts and joint powers authorities of which the city is a member, and entities receiving funds through the city, to assist in improving agency operations.”
IG staff would be entitled to access all municipal records, audits, plans, contracts, memoranda, correspondence, data and related documents to perform a watchdog role on behalf of residents, officials said.
Local civic groups have endeavored to perform similar tasks in the past.
A downtown coalition led by businesswoman Vivian Moreno regularly reported on alleged irregularities by city officials a decade ago. One of Moreno’s actions led to a successful lawsuit against the city for apparent violations of Proposition 218, which requires any proposed increase in local taxes to be approved by a majority of voters affected by it, and any assessment, or fee, to be levied with the intent of covering only those services that it’s implemented to cover.
The suit uncovered a long-standing practice by the city of transferring money from residents’ water bill payments into the General Fund. The city was prompted to obtain voters’ formal approval of the practice by putting it on an election ballot.
Inspectors general are common in most levels of the federal government.