REGION — A recently formed coalition of some of North County’s most prominent Republican city officials disclosed that it had raised $3,500 during the first half of the year, raising questions about the group’s intentions.
The North County Leadership Council, according to its website, was formed as a coalition of North County elected officials “dedicated to supporting and electing strong leaders for the future while advocating for issues that matter to the region as a whole.”
A look at its board of directors and its contributors, however, reveals that the organization is largely composed of North County’s conservative local officials, including Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, Councilman Mark Muir and former Encinitas Councilman Jerome Stocks, who is the organization’s chairman.
According to campaign disclosure forms filed by the organization in late July, the NCLC had raised $3,500 from contributions from several of its members — $1,000 from Oceanside Councilman Jerry Kern’s committee and $500 each from Gaspar, Muir, Stocks, Vista Mayor Judy Ritter and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond.
Other members of the council’s board include Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall — all Republicans.
Stocks said the organization, which is in its neophyte stages, is nonpartisan, and plans on recruiting Democrats and liberals to their membership rolls.
“It is a coincidence,” Stocks said of the group’s exclusively Republican leadership panel. “Democrats are more than welcome to join, and we intend to reach out to Democrats and ask them to get involved.
“We currently don’t have any general membership, only the founding board, but we do intend to have general membership,” Stocks said. “This is just the foundation.”
Stocks said the group’s leadership envisions operating similarly to organizations such as Innovate 78, using the collective strength of the cities north of Highway 56 to create an effective lobbying bloc and working together to recruit businesses, housing and other opportunities.
“Basically, more than half of the county’s population lives north of the 56, and the group of us believe that from a political perspective, the gravitational pull has historically been toward downtown San Diego and the South Bay,” Stocks said. “Historically in North County it has been a group of cities working not always cooperatively with our neighbors regarding a number of issues. This is a different approach; we are trying to be more collaborative than competitive, and the concept is that if we have the opportunity to learn about the opportunities in each other’s communities, maybe we can do some good for each other.”
A number of residents and elected officials are skeptical of the group’s nonpartisan intentions.
Councilman Tony Kranz said the first time he heard of the organization was last week when Kristin Gaspar listed it among her leadership credentials in her statement of intent to run for the County Board of Supervisors.
Reached Wednesday, Kranz said he said he would give the organization the benefit of the doubt, but said that a statement on its website that the council intends to form a political action committee and endorse elected officials makes him less inclined to believe the group will stay nonpartisan.
Kranz said that over the years organizations with similar intentions have ultimately become traditional political action committees that come out for or against candidates or ballot measures.
“Political action committees are not as effective when you have multiple viewpoints,” Kranz said. “But, they did just get started, so time will tell whether or not the organization can remain nonpartisan.”
A local political expert said that a telltale sign of the intentions of a group like the leadership council would be how soon they reach out to local Democratic leadership.
“If improving the political clout of a region is the primary goal, I think they would be able to assemble a board whose leadership has some crossover,” said Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego. “But, if the group solely exists for the hand-to-hand combat of an election, these groups typically will choose one side.”
With 2016 looming, the organization could tie itself to several major election races, including in Encinitas, a political bellwether community where four of the five city council seats are up for grabs, or the District Three supervisor race, where Gaspar and Abed have already entered the race to upseat embattled incumbent Dave Roberts.
Stocks said the group has not discussed its intentions for the 2016 election.
“It remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” Stocks said.