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City set to discuss option for charter status

Section of draft charter doesn’t allow for City Council raises, pensions
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The city of Auburn is considering charter status, and some residents are concerned about how the city is going about it and what it will mean for citizens. Councilman Kevin Hanley wrote the draft charter the city is currently discussing. He said charter status gives cities more control and flexibility over decisions involving sewer repairs, land use, housing and laws related to police and fire. The charter is like a city’s constitution, and approved state legislation is not automatically enforced within a charter city. The Supreme Court could still control charter cities by saying what they can and cannot do, Hanley said. Hanley said there are currently 120 charter cities in California, including Roseville and Grass Valley. On Monday night the City Council will hold its first charter city public hearing to explore the draft charter Hanley wrote. Prevailing wage and effects of charter on citizens Among the items possibly affected by charter status are prevailing wage, Hanley said. “The practice right now is the director of the Department of Industrial Relations down in Sacramento, what he does is he looks at all the sort of collective bargaining arrangements in a region like the Sacramento, Placer region and determines what the prevailing wage is according to those agreements, union agreements for different trades, a carpenter, etc., and how many dollars per hour must be paid to a certain trade,” Hanley said. Charter status could change the way prevailing wage works for local projects whose bidders come in at lower than prevailing wage, Hanley said. “If a charter passed by the voters says that the city is exempt from paying that prevailing wage on a specific project, then whatever bid comes in we would pay that,” Hanley said. Hanley said charter status would affect residents in several different ways, one possibly being lower sewer rates if the city is able to pay less than prevailing wage for sewer repair work. “I believe that the average resident would be paying a lower sewer bill than they would otherwise,” Hanley said. “They would see the same situation as far as five elected City Council members elected at large, so all the City Council members have to respond to constituents no matter where constituents live. You would find a situation where we would continue with no worries on volunteers (because of the prevailing wage exemption), and you would also find a situation where people are monitoring what the City Council is doing. In many cases where someone … says, ‘Well state law prevents the city of Auburn from doing this,’ the next question will be, ‘Because we are now a charter city, does it give us the ability to craft a local solution to a problem?” Charter process The City Council plans to hold three charter city public hearings combined with regular council sessions. During these sessions the public can voice their concerns and questions about charter status. Hanley said the council can debate about and make changes to his draft charter if it wants to. Aug. 8 is the earliest date the council could vote on the charter. If the council votes to approve the charter, it would then go forward for voter approval. “The process will be if the City Council wants to place the charter on a ballot, and it would probably be a June 2012 ballot, they would vote for a charter and submit argument in favor of the charter,” Hanley said. “Opponents would be able to submit arguments opposing the charter and then in June 2012 there would be a vote … and if the majority of the people vote for the charter it becomes a charter city.” Pros and cons Hanley said there are several pros connected to charter status for Auburn, including guaranteeing the benefit of volunteerism in Auburn while exempting volunteers from prevailing wage. Some also see the prevailing wage issue as a con, Hanley said. “There are people, groups … who oppose the prevailing wage exemption,” Hanley said. “They will say that you will get a lower quality of work. The city of Palo Alto has had the prevailing wage exemption for about 20 years, and what they have said in their study is they have lowered costs by 10 percent but found no lower quality of work.” Auburn like Bell? Auburn resident Suzy Forwood wrote to the Journal expressing concerns about Auburn becoming a charter city, because Bell is a charter city. In 2010 it was discovered that several Bell officials were taking inflated salaries, including its city manager, Robert Rizzo, earning $787,637 a year. Forwood expressed concerns that Auburn council members might also be able to give themselves large salaries and benefits. Hanley said his draft charter includes a section to prevent that from happening. “What the charter does … it keeps current state laws as far as city council pay,” Hanley said. “What the law says is if your city has fewer than 35,000 people, you can’t pay city council members more than $300 per month. Then the city charter goes one step further and it says city council members cannot grant themselves a pension, or if they lose an election they can’t collect unemployment insurance. This is a public service, it’s not a full time job. It always will be because it’s a small city, so there’s no need for that.” What residents think Auburn resident Sara Ann Ough said she hopes the City Council presents a clear message of what the charter would include and makes the process easy for residents to understand. “I just want the City Council to explain to all of us citizens exactly what they envision,” Ough said. “It’s not my decision to make at this point, it’s there’s, what they are going to present to the people. I don’t think the average person in Auburn is really tuned to what charter cities are.” Forwood said she hadn’t heard about the possibility of Auburn becoming a charter city until her husband got a letter from a carpenters union discussing how the change would affect prevailing wage. “I just found it disturbing that out of the blue we get a letter from the union and I hadn’t even heard about it until then,” Forwood said. Forwood said without prevailing wage her husband might be underbid and not get as many jobs, but that was not her main concern. “It’s not as much about the jobs with my husband,” she said. “It’s more a concern of people running the city without being in check, but it sounds like Kevin’s going to present this charter and people will actually get to hear about it. I don’t think enough people heard about it was one of my concerns. Whatever is best for Auburn should prevail.” City clerk and city treasurer Hanley said as part of his draft charter, the positions of city clerk and city treasurer would be eliminated. Hanley said he believes this is a good idea after the ongoing debate surrounding both positions, because the city’s administrative services director, Andy Heath, and deputy city clerk, Amy Lind, do the work of the treasurer and clerk. “That’s why I said these are duplicative because we already have city staff doing the main part of the job,” he said. “Then the other part is the city treasurer and the city clerk don’t need to have any qualifications to serve, and they are elected every four years and we have to pay election costs, so that adds up.” Current City Clerk Joe Labrie and Treasurer George Williams did not return a Journal request for comment. Both men have defended the need for their positions in previous Journal stories. The draft charter is expected to be included in Monday’s City Council agenda, which could be uploaded to auburn.ca.gov by Thursday or Friday, said City Manager Bob Richardson. The draft and any additional documents are expected to be posted separately on the website by Tuesday, Richardson said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- Pros and cons of charter city according to Councilman Kevin Hanley Pros: • Save $2 million in ratepayer money over the next six years by letting Auburn pay the Placer County market wage for workers rather than the state prevailing wage for sewer repairs • Have a performance-based budget • Prevent City Council from imposing new taxes and fees • Prevent City Council members from giving themselves a raise, giving themselves a pension or collecting unemployment insurance • State legislation that does not benefit the city is not automatically enforced Cons: • Large groups of employees might have an easier time getting an initiative on the ballot for things such as giving themselves raises • Positive state legislation is not automatically enforced anymore. The city would have to pass separate ordinances after tracking bills, requiring more staff time • Some believe eliminating prevailing wage could lead to lower quality work ------------------------------------------------------ City Council charter city hearings When: 6 p.m. June 13, July 11, Aug. 8 Where: City Council chambers, City Hall, 1225 Lincoln Way, Auburn