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Questions arise over charter

Charter would give special interest groups too much power, resident says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Residents of Auburn and beyond came out Monday night to give their opinions about the option of charter status for the city of Auburn. The Auburn City Council held its first charter city hearing in conjunction with its regular meeting. About half of the lower level of the council chambers was filled with attendees by the time the charter issue came up on the agenda. Councilman Kevin Hanley presented the draft charter he had written and spoke about several items in the potential charter. The draft charter calls for exempting Auburn from prevailing wage on locally funded projects; offering some type of bidding preference to Placer County firms for city projects; eliminating the city clerk and city treasurer positions; making it so the council can’t impose any additional fees or taxes over what is allowed to a general law city; prohibiting city council members from giving themselves raises, pensions and unemployment insurance; exempting volunteers from receiving prevailing wage if the state should ever require that to be the case and more. Hanley said the charter would not solve all of the problems Auburn might face, but it could help. “The charter’s not a panacea by any means, but it’s one tool I think we should consider,” Hanley said. In a previous agenda item Councilman Mike Holmes suggested having study sessions outside council meetings to investigate the charter option. Other council members said study sessions could come after the initial council hearings, if more in-depth investigation was needed. Holmes tabled the idea. Holmes expressed concern that the draft charter was not posted separately from the meeting agenda on the city’s website. “The thing is I have been out in the community talking to other people and they have no idea what this thing looks like,” Holmes said. “How are we going to get community input if they have no idea what this thing looks like?” Hanley included a motion on Monday’s agenda for City Manager Bob Richardson to include the charter and supporting documents in an easy-to-navigate way on the city’s website. Hanley also asked Richardson to make sure residents had an easy way to e-mail, call or write council members their opinions about the topic. Mayor Bill Kirby said he liked the possibility of Auburn having more autonomy through the charter. Most commentors spoke on the topic of the possible prevailing wage exemption. Hanley said he expects the exemption to save $2 million in future sewer repairs, because the city could pay the market rate for workers instead of the prevailing wage rate set by the director of the Department of Industrial Relations in Sacramento. The exemption could only be applied to projects that are funded locally, not those that receive state or federal funding, such as any redevelopment projects, Hanley said. Hanley said the only really big project he could see the exemption impacting would be the city’s sewer system. Hanley also said if the city was unhappy with the quality of work it was receiving by not paying prevailing wage, it could still decide to pay the wage if it wanted to. Auburn resident Ginny Smith said she works for the Construction Employers Association. “We are concerned with the proposed exemption of prevailing wages,” Smith said. “Contrary to the misconceptions, we don’t believe they raise costs.” Smith said the quality of a project tends to not be as good without prevailing wage, and it usually brings a lot of out-of-area contractors in. Smith said the city should not be concerned about the state requiring volunteers to be paid prevailing wage, because she believes the current law exempting them from prevailing wage until 2012 will be extended until 2017. “I think the concern about volunteers having to be (paid according) to prevailing wage is not one I would worry about,” she said. Resident Dennis Dean said he was concerned that it would be too easy for special interest groups to get a self-serving resolution changing the charter on the ballot. “Any vested, well-financed interest can do that at any time,” Dean said. “That’s a slam dunk.” The city is scheduled to have two more charter city hearings on July 11 and Aug. 8. In other business City Council: • In a 3-2 vote approved nominating the Old City Hall and Old Town Firehouse for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and approved sending a letter of notification to the California State Office of Historical Preservation. For more on Monday’s meeting, see Wednesday’s edition of the Journal. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com