After months of research, deliberation and argument, the Davis City Council has decided to let the voters decide.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday to put a city charter measure before voters in November – one that does not include choice voting or any other alterations to the way the city currently operates.
But that doesn’t mean things couldn’t change. Adopting a charter means the city will be able to change the number of city council members, change the way councilmembers are elected or change the way the city negotiates with firefighters and police officers. All of these are things the city cannot do under current law.
The looming issue behind the charter is the ability of the city to implement a choice voting system in city council elections. This would allow voters to rank candidates in order of their preference and would change the way votes are counted.
Voters in 2006 approved an advisory measure supporting choice voting, but the council decided against including it in the charter. If the charter is approved in November, another ballot measure amending the charter will have to be approved by voters in order to allow for choice voting.
Deputy city manager Kelly Stachowicz said the decision was made not to include a choice voting provision because “there are many additional issues to work through dealing with choice voting, and to confound it or to intermix it with a charter really confuses both matters.”
The dissenting vote was cast by Councilmember Don Saylor, who has consistently said he does not see a compelling reason to pursue the charter at this time.
“I don’t see a compelling need or a problem we are trying to fix,” he said. “It’s not clear to me why we should do this now.”
Councilmember Sue Greenwald also expressed reservations about the charter, although she voted in favor of putting it before voters.
Greenwald said she was concerned about the potential for implementing a system of binding arbitration, which limits the city’s options in negotiating with public safety personnel and others on pay raises.
“My biggest concern is that charters allow for binding arbitration, and that’s one of the things that has led to the bankruptcy scenarios in some of our California cities,” she said.
The cost of putting the measure on the ballot will be between $45,000 and $60,000. The city budgets for one special election annually. Other than the cost of getting the measure on the ballot, there is no cost to the city to adopt a charter.
The charter measure will join a slew of other state and local measures that have already qualified for the ballot, including a parcel tax for the Davis Joint Unified School District and 12 statewide propositions.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at email@example.com.