City Moves Forward with Charter Proposal

It was a 4-1 vote on Tuesday night in favor of the charter. The chief proponents of the charter really wanted a unanimous vote, frankly they were fortunate that they got even four votes.

A charter city is the first step towards allowing the city to enact choice voting. There is a whole lot more they can do with a charter city–both good and bad–but for now it is a very simple charter.

Getting four votes was a chore as it was. Mayor Ruth Asmundson for instance did not want a charter that specified choice voting. So the two main proponents of the measure–Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Lamar Heystek, changed the wording to make the proposed charter very broad and which does not specifically mention choice voting. The council now has to place a separate measure either on the November ballot or a later election to amend the charter and allow choice voting.

Given those changes, Mayor Ruth Asmundson was on board.

Next you had Councilmember Sue Greenwald. She was not that concerned either about the city charter or choice voting. However, she would not support a charter that allowed for binding arbitration.

Just last month, the city of San Luis Obispo, the town where I grew up, was placed in huge bind due to binding arbitration. An Oakland-based arbitrator awarded substantial raises to San Luis Obispo police officers, dispatchers, an evidence and field technicians through binding arbitration.

The San Luis Obispo City Council has no power to change the decision, and instead will have to come up with a long list of expected cuts in order to balance their budget.

According to the July 13, 2008 San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune:

“Under the arbitrator’s decision, San Luis Obispo police officers at the highest step on the salary schedule will make $102,600 by January, before overtime pay. That will make them the highest paid public safety officers in the county and most of the Central Coast. Top dispatchers will make $76,780 before overtime.

The raises amount to 27 percent for officers and 33 percent for non-sworn staff over four years. Finance Director Bill Statler said the raises will actually be 30 percent and 37 percent after compounding one salary increase upon another over the length of the contract.

All five council members have decried the arbitration process, saying San Luis Obispo’s budget health should not be left to an unelected outsider with no stake in city affairs.”

San Luis Obispo is a charter city but it is one of only 25 cities in the state with binding arbitration. The voters in the year 2000 approved binding arbitration with a 57% vote after a long campaign by police and firefighters to include it in the city’s charter. The sitting city council in 2000, strongly opposed binding arbitration and put an opposing measure on the ballot that same year which was rejected with a 61 percent vote.

Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald noted San Luis Obispo during her comments on Tuesday. It will be interesting to note if something similar could happen in Davis by initiative despite the efforts of the Davis City Council.

The lone dissenter was Don Saylor. Don Saylor has been consistent on this issue, questioning whether there was a reason that we need to do this right now and calling it a solution in search of a problem.

Councilmember Heystek responded that the fact that the state was looking to encroach on local control was reason enough to do it.

In my own opinion, I remain somewhat stuck in the middle. In principle, I like the ideal of home rule. I am a believer in local control. There are a number of things that we can do with a charter city that we could without. On the other hand, what happened in San Luis Obispo is a warning that we need to take seriously. We can build protections into the charter, but at the same time, those protections can be undone by a vote of the people.

Toward the bigger issue, I remain circumspect about the idea of choice voting. I respect a lot of people who are strongly in support of it, but I really do not see the added advantage that they do. Frankly, I think a lot of the points that Don Saylor makes on this issue are worth considering. The biggest electoral reform that we need may not be choice voting, but a combination of district elections and campaign finance changes. I don’t see a lot of election outcomes likely to be changed by choice voting nor do I necessarily think they should be changed. Don Saylor made the point during a previous discussion, that the moment that choice voting changes the outcome of an election, we may have a huge problem on our hands.

None of these are reasons why I oppose either the city charter or choice voting at this time. Only to say that I remain skeptical of the added value of choice voting and cautious about the possibility of unintended consequences for the charter city.

If the election were held tomorrow, I would probably support the charter city. But these concerns are real.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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Elections

44 comments

  1. I agree with DPD that we need campaign finance reform and a good look at district elections. The council needs to stop dragging this issue out and make decisions once and for all that will be better for the citizens of Davis.

  2. I agree with DPD that we need campaign finance reform and a good look at district elections. The council needs to stop dragging this issue out and make decisions once and for all that will be better for the citizens of Davis.

  3. I agree with DPD that we need campaign finance reform and a good look at district elections. The council needs to stop dragging this issue out and make decisions once and for all that will be better for the citizens of Davis.

  4. I agree with DPD that we need campaign finance reform and a good look at district elections. The council needs to stop dragging this issue out and make decisions once and for all that will be better for the citizens of Davis.

  5. Don Saylor put it succinctly when he said it was a “solution in search of a problem” I fail to see any benefit in choice voting. That being said, I think that there is a lot of merit to district elections. But is it worth the trouble? Nah.

    The funny thing about unions is that their best contracts are usually their last… they never seem to understand why their employers go under just as they finally get all the goodies they ever wanted.

  6. Don Saylor put it succinctly when he said it was a “solution in search of a problem” I fail to see any benefit in choice voting. That being said, I think that there is a lot of merit to district elections. But is it worth the trouble? Nah.

    The funny thing about unions is that their best contracts are usually their last… they never seem to understand why their employers go under just as they finally get all the goodies they ever wanted.

  7. Don Saylor put it succinctly when he said it was a “solution in search of a problem” I fail to see any benefit in choice voting. That being said, I think that there is a lot of merit to district elections. But is it worth the trouble? Nah.

    The funny thing about unions is that their best contracts are usually their last… they never seem to understand why their employers go under just as they finally get all the goodies they ever wanted.

  8. Don Saylor put it succinctly when he said it was a “solution in search of a problem” I fail to see any benefit in choice voting. That being said, I think that there is a lot of merit to district elections. But is it worth the trouble? Nah.

    The funny thing about unions is that their best contracts are usually their last… they never seem to understand why their employers go under just as they finally get all the goodies they ever wanted.

  9. DPD,

    I don’t quite know enough about this issue to decide one way or another. What kind of scenario do we have right now that is alternative to the charter proposal?

    It looks like having Charter status gives more local options, but also makes us vulnerable to strong local political forces.

  10. DPD,

    I don’t quite know enough about this issue to decide one way or another. What kind of scenario do we have right now that is alternative to the charter proposal?

    It looks like having Charter status gives more local options, but also makes us vulnerable to strong local political forces.

  11. DPD,

    I don’t quite know enough about this issue to decide one way or another. What kind of scenario do we have right now that is alternative to the charter proposal?

    It looks like having Charter status gives more local options, but also makes us vulnerable to strong local political forces.

  12. DPD,

    I don’t quite know enough about this issue to decide one way or another. What kind of scenario do we have right now that is alternative to the charter proposal?

    It looks like having Charter status gives more local options, but also makes us vulnerable to strong local political forces.

  13. There is not a lot of options that the city currently has if they want to do choice voting. Now district elections, I don’t know if you need a charter to do them.

    I think you are exactly right a charter gives opportunity but it also leaves vulnerabilities.

  14. There is not a lot of options that the city currently has if they want to do choice voting. Now district elections, I don’t know if you need a charter to do them.

    I think you are exactly right a charter gives opportunity but it also leaves vulnerabilities.

  15. There is not a lot of options that the city currently has if they want to do choice voting. Now district elections, I don’t know if you need a charter to do them.

    I think you are exactly right a charter gives opportunity but it also leaves vulnerabilities.

  16. There is not a lot of options that the city currently has if they want to do choice voting. Now district elections, I don’t know if you need a charter to do them.

    I think you are exactly right a charter gives opportunity but it also leaves vulnerabilities.

  17. David,

    You are mistaken.

    General law cities are NOT allowed to impose binding arbitration by initiative, just as they are not allowed to enact choice voting by initiative.

    Given this concern,I asked our city attorney whether a city council in a charter city could
    could merely pass an ordinance requiring binding arbitration, without taking it to a vote of the people.

    The city attorney answered my question with a “probably yes”. That is why it was so important to explicitly forbid binding arbitration in the charter, at least forcing it to a vote of the people.

    This was an extremely important addition.

  18. David,

    You are mistaken.

    General law cities are NOT allowed to impose binding arbitration by initiative, just as they are not allowed to enact choice voting by initiative.

    Given this concern,I asked our city attorney whether a city council in a charter city could
    could merely pass an ordinance requiring binding arbitration, without taking it to a vote of the people.

    The city attorney answered my question with a “probably yes”. That is why it was so important to explicitly forbid binding arbitration in the charter, at least forcing it to a vote of the people.

    This was an extremely important addition.

  19. David,

    You are mistaken.

    General law cities are NOT allowed to impose binding arbitration by initiative, just as they are not allowed to enact choice voting by initiative.

    Given this concern,I asked our city attorney whether a city council in a charter city could
    could merely pass an ordinance requiring binding arbitration, without taking it to a vote of the people.

    The city attorney answered my question with a “probably yes”. That is why it was so important to explicitly forbid binding arbitration in the charter, at least forcing it to a vote of the people.

    This was an extremely important addition.

  20. David,

    You are mistaken.

    General law cities are NOT allowed to impose binding arbitration by initiative, just as they are not allowed to enact choice voting by initiative.

    Given this concern,I asked our city attorney whether a city council in a charter city could
    could merely pass an ordinance requiring binding arbitration, without taking it to a vote of the people.

    The city attorney answered my question with a “probably yes”. That is why it was so important to explicitly forbid binding arbitration in the charter, at least forcing it to a vote of the people.

    This was an extremely important addition.

  21. If I said general law cities could do that, I don’t recall it and it is my mistake.

    Sue, my real concern here is what happened in San Luis Obispo. Public safety simply put a measure on the ballot, they had the political organization, the money, the people power, and they were able to pass binding arbitration.

    I appreciate that the council is trying to prevent that from occurring, but there is a real danger here that a charter could open things up to problems of this nature.

  22. If I said general law cities could do that, I don’t recall it and it is my mistake.

    Sue, my real concern here is what happened in San Luis Obispo. Public safety simply put a measure on the ballot, they had the political organization, the money, the people power, and they were able to pass binding arbitration.

    I appreciate that the council is trying to prevent that from occurring, but there is a real danger here that a charter could open things up to problems of this nature.

  23. If I said general law cities could do that, I don’t recall it and it is my mistake.

    Sue, my real concern here is what happened in San Luis Obispo. Public safety simply put a measure on the ballot, they had the political organization, the money, the people power, and they were able to pass binding arbitration.

    I appreciate that the council is trying to prevent that from occurring, but there is a real danger here that a charter could open things up to problems of this nature.

  24. If I said general law cities could do that, I don’t recall it and it is my mistake.

    Sue, my real concern here is what happened in San Luis Obispo. Public safety simply put a measure on the ballot, they had the political organization, the money, the people power, and they were able to pass binding arbitration.

    I appreciate that the council is trying to prevent that from occurring, but there is a real danger here that a charter could open things up to problems of this nature.

  25. Choice voting sounds interesting, but this seems like a lot of trouble to get that. I don’t really have any complaints about how voting has gone so far. Some of my candidates have lost, but I don’t expect to get my way all the time.

    I don’t characterize myself as strongly slow/no-growth or pro-development. Some development is inevitable and necessary. I just don’t want to see it get out of hand. I basically like what Davis has been doing so far.

    Are there examples that someone can present as to how things would be different in Davis if we had choice voting?

  26. Choice voting sounds interesting, but this seems like a lot of trouble to get that. I don’t really have any complaints about how voting has gone so far. Some of my candidates have lost, but I don’t expect to get my way all the time.

    I don’t characterize myself as strongly slow/no-growth or pro-development. Some development is inevitable and necessary. I just don’t want to see it get out of hand. I basically like what Davis has been doing so far.

    Are there examples that someone can present as to how things would be different in Davis if we had choice voting?

  27. Choice voting sounds interesting, but this seems like a lot of trouble to get that. I don’t really have any complaints about how voting has gone so far. Some of my candidates have lost, but I don’t expect to get my way all the time.

    I don’t characterize myself as strongly slow/no-growth or pro-development. Some development is inevitable and necessary. I just don’t want to see it get out of hand. I basically like what Davis has been doing so far.

    Are there examples that someone can present as to how things would be different in Davis if we had choice voting?

  28. Choice voting sounds interesting, but this seems like a lot of trouble to get that. I don’t really have any complaints about how voting has gone so far. Some of my candidates have lost, but I don’t expect to get my way all the time.

    I don’t characterize myself as strongly slow/no-growth or pro-development. Some development is inevitable and necessary. I just don’t want to see it get out of hand. I basically like what Davis has been doing so far.

    Are there examples that someone can present as to how things would be different in Davis if we had choice voting?

  29. David,

    As I said at the meeting, I am confident that a ballot initiative for binding arbitration would fail at the polls in Davis today, given the history of Vallejo and other charter cities that enacted binding arbitration.

    I am not as confident that a future council majority would never pass a binding arbitration ordinance, given the involvement of the firefighters union in our local elections.

  30. David,

    As I said at the meeting, I am confident that a ballot initiative for binding arbitration would fail at the polls in Davis today, given the history of Vallejo and other charter cities that enacted binding arbitration.

    I am not as confident that a future council majority would never pass a binding arbitration ordinance, given the involvement of the firefighters union in our local elections.

  31. David,

    As I said at the meeting, I am confident that a ballot initiative for binding arbitration would fail at the polls in Davis today, given the history of Vallejo and other charter cities that enacted binding arbitration.

    I am not as confident that a future council majority would never pass a binding arbitration ordinance, given the involvement of the firefighters union in our local elections.

  32. David,

    As I said at the meeting, I am confident that a ballot initiative for binding arbitration would fail at the polls in Davis today, given the history of Vallejo and other charter cities that enacted binding arbitration.

    I am not as confident that a future council majority would never pass a binding arbitration ordinance, given the involvement of the firefighters union in our local elections.

  33. So what are the advantages of a charter city. All I have heard is anecdotal evidence of pitfalls. Are there any examples of positives? If not, let’s leave well enough alone.

  34. So what are the advantages of a charter city. All I have heard is anecdotal evidence of pitfalls. Are there any examples of positives? If not, let’s leave well enough alone.

  35. So what are the advantages of a charter city. All I have heard is anecdotal evidence of pitfalls. Are there any examples of positives? If not, let’s leave well enough alone.

  36. So what are the advantages of a charter city. All I have heard is anecdotal evidence of pitfalls. Are there any examples of positives? If not, let’s leave well enough alone.

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