Thursday Feb 09 2012
Groups assemble on both sides of charter city issue
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
Local organization to host debate
Supporters on each side of the debate over whether Auburn should become a charter city are mobilizing. They’ll have a few months to make their case before the issue is brought before voters in June. Some local officials say becoming a charter city will have benefits, including giving Auburn more autonomy from the state and saving the city money on certain projects. Others opposed to the idea said some charter cities in California have used their charter status to abuse their power and charge less than prevailing wage for certain jobs. Subhead: Grassroots group goes pro-charter Bob Snyder, Auburn City Planning Commissioner, is among those who have gathered in support of the charter. Snyder said volunteers looking to complete projects sometimes run into issues because unions demand the city pay prevailing wage for a task. He said going to a charter status would lift those restrictions and allow volunteers to move forward with projects freely. When other groups, including unions, sent out fliers against Auburn becoming a charter city, Snyder said other locals formed a group in favor of it. “We meet now maybe once a month to talk about if we are going to have raise money for yard signs,” Snyder said. “There is a group ready to respond to negative stuff like we saw before, but if doesn’t come we aren’t going to do anything. We are not looking for a fight.” Snyder said the charter specifically bans elected officials from raising their wages or voting in tax increases, therefore protecting citizens from abuse. Those against the charter use examples of abuse by charter cities, like those in Bell, Calif. as points in case. “That’s just mud throwing. What happened at Bell you had some corrupt officials. They would have been corrupt whether they were a charter city or not,” Snyder said. “I have never seen any corruption in government here…certainly not in high officials. We know these people. That is just a method to cast doubt on it.” Subhead: One union’s legal team requested public records The North American Carpenters Association is one group in opposition. One official from the union declined to comment. Another did not return requests for comment by press time. Council Member Mike Holmes said both sides will try to communicate their position to voters, but one union has hired lawyers in San Francisco. Those lawyers requested public records, including written conversations between staff about becoming a charter city. The Journal could not confirm if the North American Carpenters Association hired the lawyers. “There is a group here in Auburn that is going to be the pro side and we expect mostly the con side will be union-related,” Holmes said. “It looks like both sides are gearing up for a campaign before the June election.” Auburn City Mayor Keith Nesbitt agrees that the anti-charter group has aimed to misinform people about the issue. “They have their position. I don’t respect the misinformation campaign they have embarked upon. They have recently requested a bunch of records that they will probably twist and misrepresent to the public,” Nesbitt said. He said not having to pay prevailing wage for projects is one major benefit of becoming a charter city and the city is not trying to hide that. “The long-range effect is really more control (from the state),” Nesbitt said. “The short range is exempting on prevailing wage that will save us $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 on upcoming projects.” Paul Berger, member at large for the Auburn Area Democratic Club, said the club plans to host a debate on the charter city issue for the public at 7 p.m. on April 5 at the Auburn Library. Berger said he thinks the issue has been clouded by the focus on prevailing wage and he is interested in other impacts becoming a charter city may have. “We want to get some speakers who are going to get past this whole prevailing wage, anti-union narrative and really get to the pros and cons of what it means for Auburn to become a charter city,” Berger said. “We thought it would be a good service to the community to have speakers on both sides of the issue.” While he hasn’t made a definite decision about how he will vote, Berger said not charging prevailing wage could end up costing Auburn more in the long-term in terms of project quality. The track record of some charter cities is also a red flag, he said. Berger, a retired lawyer, said charter city status could even open up the city to more lawsuits. “There are also issues involving transparency. The City of Bell was a charter city. That is an example of a small city with a small population with a small group of people wielding a lot of power. Charter cities invite litigation, which could tie the city up in knots and be very costly to taxpayers. As a general law city we have state oversight, therefore if there is a problem, we can go to the legislature and seek a recourse. I’m not sure the case has been made that we should all of a sudden become a charter city.” Despite the ideas on each side, Berger said he hopes to see a balanced debate in April. “Hopefully a debate that doesn’t just center around pro and anti union,” Berger said. “Becoming a charter city is a pretty serious step and not just because of the union issue.” Reach Sara Seyydin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at AJ_News.