Measure A is a risky, unnecessary experiment that we can’t afford

By: Hank Gonzales, former mayor
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Are you wondering why proponents of the Auburn Charter just spent thousands of your hard earned tax dollars on a lawsuit to silence four former Auburn mayors and Placer County’s leading taxpayer advocate?
It’s because they don’t want you to know that Measure A could be a disaster.
Fortunately, this week, a Placer County Superior Court judge ruled against their frivolous efforts to silence dissent. And for good reason.
Auburn’s own city attorney has warned that a charter invites big problems — including costly lawsuits, more costly elections, and more special interests meddling in our local affairs. Bear in mind, one charter lawsuit is already on the books, and we haven’t even voted yet.
Measure A would dramatically reshape our city government in almost every way. The legal consequences that charters bring are complex and often misunderstood. The most important one is that anywhere the charter is silent is where the City Council has the most power, and can bypass voters to impose things that wouldn’t be allowed under current law.
For example, Measure A is silent on the issue of paying politicians more for serving on boards and commissions. This loophole caused a national scandal when it was exploited — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars per year — by council members in the now infamous City of Bell. If Measure A passes, the same thing could happen here in Auburn.
Similarly, Measure A is silent on the City Council giving away taxpayer funds with no strings attached, but the courts have repeatedly ruled that charter cities enjoy such powers. So if you like Placer County’s controversial “Revenue Sharing” program, you’ll LOVE Measure A.
The same is also true of imposing dramatically higher fines and penalties than allowed under current law — on everything from parking violations to sign ordinances. In charter cities like San Francisco, this is the “hidden tax increase” politicians use to subsidize their bloated budgets — and voters get no say in the matter.
Among the things that Measure A does include are changes to city contracting that could make it easier for political cronies to receive lucrative city contracts (Section 304), and a provision that lets the city prohibit implementation of a variety of existing laws —including those that require more government transparency and protect public safety professionals, seniors and children (Section 401).
The fact that corruption, higher taxes, runaway deficits and even bankruptcy have come to other charter cities is no coincidence. It’s a warning, and a reminder of the fact that charters are really just loophole factories. If you aren’t careful, they can be easily exploited by politicians and special interests at enormous taxpayer expense.
Measure A is a case in point.
When considering the charter last summer, the City Council rejected the idea of forming a citizens advisory group to weigh the pros, cons, and potential consequences. They said that because Measure A was short and simple, there was nothing to worry about.
Take it from a former city mayor. When a politician tells you “there’s nothing to see here,” that’s a desperate cry for more scrutiny.
Consider proponents’ assertion that Measure A will save $2 million on city sewer repairs.
Even the most basic independent review would have shown this to be false. According to both the city attorney and city clerk, this was the fantasy of one city council member who has produced no credible documentation. Just this week, in a comment posted to the Auburn Journal’s website, Councilmember (Dr. Bill) Kirby said the claim “does not seem to be realistic.” (Note: comment at 204266).
It should also be noted that the charter city “Prevailing Wage exemption” that proponents often cite to claim savings is not settled law. The California State Supreme Court heard arguments in a legal challenge to this exemption on April 4. They could overturn it before the June 5 election.
Finally, independent review would have shown Measure A to be a grab bag for out-of-town special interests. If Auburn enacts a charter, amendments can be proposed with just a few thousand signatures. That’s an engraved invitation for well-funded outside groups to come into our small town and spend unlimited resources on misleading campaigns that could cement their narrow agendas into our city constitution.
Think it can’t happen? Ask someone from Vallejo how their city went bankrupt.
There is a reason that most cities in California remain general law cities. Because the majority of general laws, the laws that currently govern Auburn, protect taxpayers from corruption, unreasonable financial burdens, outside special interests, and cronyism. Auburn is working just fine. There is no need to rush into a risky charter experiment — especially given the consequences if it backfires.
Preserve Auburn. Vote No on Measure A.
Hank Gonzales is a former Auburn city mayor.


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