City of Auburn dives into uncharted waters

Leaders ponder keeping power local
By: Melody Stone Journal staff writer
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The “crucial question” is who do we trust, the state government or the city of Auburn? “I think that is the bottom-line question,” Councilman Kevin Hanley said Monday. Hanley said a charter would give more control to the city government. This could mean exemption from prevailing wage for some city contracts, and protecting local funds from state seizures. However, what it means exactly is yet to be determined. Council approved direction to staff to research the benefits of becoming a charter city at the last council meeting March 8. Hanley said the dysfunction at the state level requires cities to take every opportunity to be more cost-effective, becoming a charter city may allow for more cost-savings. City Attorney Michael Colantuono said he doesn’t know if any of the 118 charter cities in California have rescinded their charter. He doesn’t think any have. This is one of the questions Hanley presented to staff and council. City Manager Robert Richardson said when the staff presents the pros and cons of a charter to the City Council it will be straightforward. Richardson said he’d need to see the report from Colantuono before determining what’s going to work for Auburn. “(Colantunono) is telling us the ways charter law works today,” Richardson said. “We will apply those laws to Auburn and how it works today versus what we see coming up in the future.” Becoming a charter city may allow Auburn to pay workers market rates instead prevailing wage, the staff report read. This is something Hanley wants investigated. A charter can make cities exempt from some state laws. When the state passes a law the city might also want to enact, with a charter they need to write an ordinance or get voter approval. Colantuono said the process is “slow and costly.” General law cities will have the law enacted automatically. In some cases having a charter led to decisions the community later regretted, Colantuono said. “The politics of decision-making will be very different in Auburn than some of the bay area communities that had trouble with this,” Colantuono said. “Because it’s a smaller well-informed area.” Colantuono said he helped with other cities’ charters and he’s seen the public be receptive. “General speaking, you have to explain to the public what a charter is and why it’s important,” Colantuono said. Colantuono said the three main reasons communities adopt a charter is to gain control over prevailing wage, protection from state take-aways, and mobile home rent control. Hanley said he hopes being exempt from the prevailing wage laws will allow the city to hire smaller local contractors and do more projects throughout the year. “(Contractors) can’t get the job now because of the prevailing wage requirements,” Hanley said. Auburn contractor, Greg Keegan, said he doesn’t seek out city bids because it’s too complicated. “I’d like to know more about (the charter),” Keegan said. He said he’d support such a move if it meant keeping local contracts local. Keegan works in the Bay Area currently because he can’t find work in the area. If the staff report looks beneficial to the city the council will request a charter be drafted. Once the charter is approved by the council it will be placed on the ballot for voter-approval. “Ultimately the people decide if this is a good idea for the city,” Hanley said.