Measure A Losing in Early Returns

Image by Flickr user Neon Tommy, used under a Creative Commons License.

A corruption probe that led to the arrest of County Assessor John Noguez appears to have failed to convince Los Angeles County voters today that future assessors should be appointed rather than elected.

With early ballots tabulated, voters opposed Measure A -- which asked whether voters would support changing the state constitution to make the job of county assessor an appointed post -- by 77.4 percent to 22.5 percent.

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich championed the non-binding advisory measure, designed to test public opinion rather than directly initiate any change in state or local laws.

In 1986, about 85 percent of voters rejected a similar proposal and reserved the right to elect the county assessor. But some thought public opinion might have shifted as a result of the arrest of Noguez, who is accused of 24 felony counts -- including 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer, five counts of perjury, four counts of accepting bribes and two counts of conspiracy -- in connection with an alleged scheme to lower property tax valuations in exchange for campaign contributions.

"An appointed assessor would account to the Board of Supervisors, who were directly elected by the people," Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said.

"The board would demand transparency and require regular reports and investigations into the assessor's operations. It gives the people the authority, rather than giving political donors the opportunity to influence the assessor."

Others argued that elected officials are more directly accountable to voters, while appointees are beholden to those who selected them.

Noguez, elected in 2010, is on indefinite leave from his post as assessor and remains jailed in lieu of $1.16 million bail. He was arrested Oct. 17 along with tax consultant Ramin Salari and assessor's aide Mark McNeil, after months of investigation by the District Attorney's Office. In a bail hearing following the arrest, Deputy District Attorney Susan Schwartz said Noguez accepted bribes from Salari.

"The actual loss in cold hard dollars ... is $1,161,919.95," Schwartz said of tax revenues lost as a result of the alleged corruption, adding that Noguez ``sold the good name of the assessor's office for the benefit of himself and his cronies."

Noguez has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His attorney, Mark Proctor, has said that District Attorney Steve Cooley is out to get his client and made the arrest without talking to Noguez to hear his side of the story despite multiple assurances that investigators would do so before filing charges.

Both the California Constitution and the Los Angeles County charter require that assessors be elected and would need to be changed in order to give the Board of Supervisors the authority to make future appointments. Amending the constitution would require legislative support and a future statewide ballot measure.

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