Dave Renison admits that taxpayer groups are often seen as ultra-conservative Republicans who oppose most government spending.
“The perceived impression is that taxpayers associations say ‘no’ to any tax increase — not ‘no,’ but ‘hell no,’” said Renison, president of the San Joaquin Taxpayers Association. “I want to surprise people once in a while.”
In fact, the San Joaquin County group has a few liberals who happen to oppose wasteful government spending, Renison said.
He maintains that he wants to find common ground on issues facing the county and not be the “Party of No.” In fact, he says he’s willing to compromise.
“We want to be seen as truly nonpartisan,” he said. “I tell people that when you get into this organization, you leave your politics at home.”
The San Joaquin Taxpayers Association has about 100 dues-paying members. The money goes to the group’s website, building rental for meetings, signs, postage and payments for public records requests, Renison said. There are no employees.
The taxpayers association was founded in 1949, but members eventually lost interest. He’s not sure when the association died out, but it was resurrected last year after the city of Stockton filed for bankruptcy.
It may be a silver lining, but Stockton’s bankruptcy filing got more people involved in local government than ever before, Renison said.
A third-generation Stockton resident, Renison, 60, became the taxpayers association president after serving for two years as foreman of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury. While he was on the Grand Jury during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 fiscal years, the jury investigated agencies such as Stockton Unified School District and the San Joaquin Regional Transit District.
It’s pretty natural for Grand Jury members to join the taxpayers association once they leave the jury, Renison said, because both organizations conduct investigations.
One of Renison’s goals is to bring ideas for tackling county issues to the table. The key, he said, is to seek solutions, especially when it comes to spending tax dollars.
Most recently, the taxpayers association investigated the San Joaquin Mosquito & Vector Control District. Someone had told the association that the 11 members of the mosquito board are eligible to receive the same health benefits that county employees receive. City councils from the seven cities in the county appoint one member each to the district board, while the other four are appointed by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
Renison began attending mosquito board meetings in south Stockton on a regular basis this year. The Grand Jury also investigated, noting that San Joaquin County taxpayers pay $66,439 per year to cover benefits to mosquito district board members.
Renison’s interest in the mosquito district’s benefit packages got the taxpayers association to go a step further. The organization has asked the clerks of all 58 counties in California for the number of county committees they have, whether committee members receive benefits and, if so, how much.
After gathering the information, Renison said he will ask the state Legislature to ban appointed county committees from voting themselves health insurance benefits.
Renison said he’s a stickler when the taxpayers association investigates issues.
“If you’re not sure of the facts, don’t put them in your report,” he said. “It’s a credibility issue.”
All political persuasions welcome
Renison said that, as leader of the taxpayers association, he welcomes liberals and moderates in addition to conservatives.
One such liberal is Paul Fairbrook, 90. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but Fairbrook and Renison welcome each other’s views.
“I never thought I would become a member of a taxpayers association,” said Fairbrook, who headed food services at University of the Pacific. “I find Dave to be refreshingly pragmatic.”
Dean Andal, one of San Joaquin County’s staunchest Republican activists, agrees with Fairbrook.
“I’m very supportive of what they’re doing,” Andal said. “Whatever your view of the proper role of government, we should all agree that we don’t want our money wasted.”
Andal praises the taxpayers association for monitoring local government agencies and checking for waste of tax dollars.
Fairbrook, chairman of Stockton’s Weber Point Coffee Club, said he met Renison a few years ago when the taxpayers association head spoke to the coffee club.
“We have speakers of all kinds,” Fairbrook said of his coffee club. “Our group (is a) mixed group. We try not to talk politics. I thought it was about time we had somebody from the taxpayers association.”
Fairbrook said he was surprised when Renison didn’t portray himself as a conservative Republican. They agreed they could share some common ground and that all sides should be heard.
“I don’t think any responsible citizen would not oppose government waste,” Fairbrook said. “Causes that need to be championed should be supported whether they’re Republican or Democrat.”
When investigating a public agency or researching issues, Renison said, “I’m always looking for the source, the reasons why. Is it honest? Is it trustworthy?”
Renison says he strongly opposes members of the taxpayers association who have their mind made up and search for evidence to support it.
“You don’t lead the investigation; you follow it,” Renison said. “If it makes a right turn, you make a right turn.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.