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Key points of Measure A arguments clarified

Pro and con perspectives weigh in on charter city debate
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s Note: The Journal obtained a copy of Measure A, the proposal to make Auburn a charter city, rather than a general law city and the ballot arguments for and against this measure from the Placer County Office of Elections website. After reviewing the charter we asked for parties on both sides to answer questions related to the key points from each argument. We’ve divided it by arguments for the charter and arguments against the charter. Ballot Argument for Measure A: Key Points: • The charter will give Auburn more local control ‘Yes’ on charter response Colantuono said on the contrary that charter cities have more power to keep some local funds from going to the state. Many funds that are collected locally and used to stay local have become sources of revenue for the state legislature, he said. He said utility charges may be one area that the city could keep more taxpayer dollars local. “Its not clear how much power a charter city has to protect the state from taking local tax dollars, but it has some,” Colantuono said. “There has been a series of actions over the past 20 years to balance the state’s budget on the backs of local taxpayers, or more appropriately to not balance their budget.” ‘No’ on Charter Response Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Preserve Auburn – No on Measure A, said the charter will open the way for more special interest groups to control Auburn, rather than more local control because 15 percent of voters can get an initiative on the ballot under the charter. “It should be called the Outside Special Interest Rule Act of 2012 to Cement Special Interest Control,” Stenhouse said. “If you don’t shore up the loopholes, limit power, you create a situation where it can be easily exploited by politicians and special interests for their own gain. What I have been hearing from people on the street time and time again is that Auburn has been working just fine for 150 years and has a budget surplus. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” • The charter will save ratepayers at least $2 million on sewer repairs. ‘Yes’ on charter response Councilmember Kevin Hanley said saving money on future sewer repairs is one of the main reasons why the charter is important for Auburn’s future. He said that’s based on city staff’s projections that the city could have saved $600,000 to $750,000 when it rebuilt the waste water treatment plant in Ophir if it had been a charter city. He said based on the cost of the project overall that translated to a 13 to 15 percent savings. “We have to do $20 million in sewer repairs over the next six years, so if you use a conservative estimate, not 17 percent, 10 percent, a conservative estimate is $2 million,” Hanley said. Hanley said claims that there are no verifiable cost savings on the project are untrue and if there were no savings on the project through prevailing wage, then the California Alliance for Jobs, which represents 2,000 heavy construction companies and 80,000 union construction workers in California, would not have spent $25,000 to defeat Measure A. “Why would they be spending $25,000 if it wasn’t real?” Hanley said. ‘No’ on charter response Stenhouse said there are a few main reasons why this statement made in the ballot argument for Measure A is not true — there is no evidence, the plan for the regional sewer makes it moot and the issue of whether charter cities have to pay prevailing wage is currently being litigated. He said it is wrong for officials to promise such a savings exists given those three points. • The charter will allow the city to support volunteer projects without paying prevailing wage even if the legislature doesn’t extend a current law allowing that. Yes’ on charter response Colantuono said the law that exempts cities from paying volunteers prevailing wage is set to expire on January 1, 2017. He said it was originally passed by the legislature in reaction to a case about a union suing a city for not paying prevailing wage to citizens doing a stream cleanup. Due to union interest in seeing the legislation change, he said becoming a charter would protect Auburn from changes the state legislature makes to the law. ‘No’ on charter response Stenhouse said while the legislation on this issue is set to expire in 2017, it is not uncommon for a law to have a sunset, is widely supported across the state and will likely be adopted again. Ballot Argument against Measure A Key Points • The charter will expose city taxpayers to more costly lawsuits and more costly elections. ‘No’ on charter response: Stenhouse said Measure A has already invited more litigation to the city, citing the city clerk’s recent lawsuit against the authors of the ballot argument against Measure A. He said in Oceanside, Calif. citizens recently proposed an expensive, rabid restructuring of government because only 15 percent of voters are needed to get an initiative on the ballot. He said that rule will make it easier for special interest groups to get initiatives on the ballot that cost the taxpayers money. “Charters are amended with just a few hundred signatures. The city attorney himself has said that means you tend to get more ballot measures,” Stenhouse said. “The larger issue is an engraved invitation for special interests to say, ‘I want to come into town to get my narrow agenda put into what is in essence a city constitution.’” ‘Yes’ on charter response: Colantuono said allowing 15 percent of the voters to get an initiative on the ballot will give more power to the people, rather than the state legislature to set policy in the city. “It’s giving local power more power and some people don’t want that and some people are just fine with the decisions the state legislature is making,” Colantuono said. “The question is, ‘Do you think that will be a better fit for you than the decisions the legislature makes?’” • Measure A includes no protections from the abuses, including higher fines, deficit spending, corruption and bankruptcy that took place in other charter cities, like San Francisco, Bell and Vallejo. ‘No’ on charter response: Stenhouse said the charter should have been carefully vetted by a citizens’ review committee and not just been brought up for public comment at council meetings, so citizens could look for any loopholes and craft a strong charter. He said anywhere the charter is silent; there is room for a loophole. In charter cities where abuse occurred, he said the loopholes enabled them. He said some areas of the charter where potential loopholes exist are councilmember compensation and the gifting of taxpayer funds. “Any independent oversight would have told you that the place where charter gives city politicians the most power is where they are silent,” Stenhouse said. “This charter is silent on the issue of councilman’s pay for serving on boards and commissions. In Bell that was abused for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” ‘Yes’ on charter response: Colantuono said the charter does address the compensation for council members. He said general law cities allow a salary based on their population size and allow for certain benefits. The city’s policy is that pay starts at $300 per month for council members and can be raised over three years to keep up with inflation. It does not include any other benefits or pensions. Currently, council members make $270 a month because they elected to take a pay cut along with city staff. He said the charter even goes beyond general law to ensure council members never get a pension or benefits. “The charter says, ‘none of that changes. Compensation of council members will be controlled by the general law and in part they can never get a pension or benefits.’” On the issue of council members being paid for their service on boards or commissions, he said the charter doesn’t specifically address the issue, but he said if the board or commission is started by the city then the council couldn’t receive any more pay than that already set and if they were serving on a board or committee created by another entity, it would fall under general law anyway. He said the charter does not allow for the city to give gifts of taxpayer funds and could impose higher fees on certain things. He said the state constitution does not allow for gifts to be made of taxpayer funds and under certain circumstances higher fines might not be a bad thing if a resident wasn’t cleaning up something that was a matter of public safety. “It would not allow higher fees because Prop 26 amended the constitution to restrict fees for all government, but the power to compose fines would be controlled. It would definitely be by ordinance and voters could repeal it,” Colantuono said. • Measure A could increase the cost of city contracting by allowing the City Council to award public works contracts to firms that are not the lowest qualified bidder. ‘No’ on charter response: Stenhouse said without having to hire the lowest qualified bidder, there is no telling how much it could cost taxpayers. He said this policy opens the door for future corruption, even if the current council wouldn’t be prone to it. “This charter says that instead of going to the lowest respectable bidder, we can give them to cronies. It’s a local hire ordinance of some type. What is going to be the standard? Is it going to be 20 percent a contract? Is it going to 60? Is it going to be 100? When we call this Pandora’s box, that is exactly what it is,” Stenhouse said. ‘Yes’ on charter response: Colantuono said the ‘Think Local First’ option would allow the city council to award public works contract to firms that are not the lowest qualified bidder, but the firms would come from within a reasonable radius of the city to allow for competition. He said a common bid advantage would be 1 percent and part of the rationale is that a local company would keep the tax revenue local. “Council has the power to say we’d like to spend that 1 percent more to create the work in this community,” Colantuono said. “Some general law cities do it too, so it’s not entirely clear that a charter makes a difference.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.