Others Plow Ahead, In Spite of Public Opposition
SAN DIEGO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — With the deadline for placing city charter measures on the November ballot passed, the cities of Grover Beach and Wasco recently abandoned their efforts to place Charter proposals on the November ballot, says The Middle Class Taxpayers Association. However, three cities including Arroyo Grande, Costa Mesa and Escondido are among those who will place similar measures before voters in November.
Chartering has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with high profile corruption scandals landing officials from the Charter Cities of Bell and Vernon in jail and three California Charter Cities having recently declared bankruptcy.
The Middle Class Taxpayers Association (MCTA) launched CharterWarning.com earlier this year to warn the citizens of California of the potential risks and costs associated with Charter proposals.
With the deadline for filing charters for the November ballot now passed, MCTA Board Member Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa today issued the following statement:
“For months, the Middle Class Taxpayers Association has been working to educate the public about the hidden dangers that some city charters contain. Dangers that can open the door for corruption and mismangement that led to the scandal in Bell and paved the road to bankruptcy in other cities.
“In the past few weeks, the City Councils of Grover Beach and Wasco heeded our warnings and those from the community and opted against putting a charter measure on the ballot. Realizing the potential pitfalls, costs, complete lack of public support, and the likelihood that these communities would be divided by controversy, these cities wisely decided against moving charter proposals to the ballot and we applaud them for their decision.
“A small number of cities have moved to place measures on the ballot despite having almost no public support, and even worse, having just had a charter fight in 2012 – likely hoping that lower turnout in the off year will improve their chances. Costa Mesa placed a charter on the ballot in 2012, and 59% of voters voted No. That same year, voters in Escondido rejected a similar charter measure with 53% of local voters saying No. Sadly, the taxpayers in these communities are once again being forced to foot the bill to put these already-rejected proposals back on the ballot. Those resources could be put to far better use creating jobs or improving public safety.
“Proponents of charters had targeted up to 30 cities for potential charter conversion, but the vast majority of those cities they lobbied – including cities like Taft, Moreno Valley, La Mirada and Murietta – all looked at the record of charter cities, and decided that general law was a safer bet for their citizens.
“Ultimately, it is clear that as more Californians learn about the potential costs and consequences that chartering can bring to their communities, they are becoming more and more inclined to oppose them.”
There are two basic ways that cities are organized in California. The most common way that cities are governed is through “General Law”–a set of provisions laid out in the California constitution that establish standards for local governance. A minority of California cities have enacted charters granting local officials enhanced authority that can include the power to raise their own pay, increase fees and property transfer taxes, give away taxpayer funds with no strings attached, or run deficits. Charter Cities often face more litigation because of more frequent conflicts with state law.
In the past, charters have opened the door to an array of problems:
- The corruption that plagued the City of Bell was a result of a faulty charter on which only about 400 of the 40,000 people in the city even voted. By exploiting loopholes in this charter, city officials were able to raise their pay to hundreds of thousands of dollars, which nearly bankrupted the city. Several officials are currently serving prison sentences as a result of their crimes.
- San Bernardino – a Charter City facing crippling debt – declared bankruptcy in 2012 after years of reckless spending habits. News reports indicate that budget numbers were falsified in 13 out of 16 years leading up to the crisis.
- In Vernon–a city of only 112 people, and with more city employees than residents–corrupt officials used their city charter loopholes to feather their own nests. A recent report details how one corrupt official served simultaneously as the city administrator, city clerk, city treasurer and finance director. With no oversight, spending spiraled out of control. Even after the graft ended, this official is still seeking to keep his $551,000 annual pension from being reduced to $115,000.
- In the wake of scandals like those in Bell and Vernon, the LA Civil Grand Jury completed a study of the financial health of Charter Cities. In short, they found that only 5 of 22 cities studied had balanced budgets. The study also found that Charter Cities were more likely to make risky decisions that endangered the city’s financial future.
- In Charter Cities, politicians can keep discretionary accounts which amount to slush funds stockpiled with tax dollars that they can then personally direct to projects and activities of their choosing, often with very little oversight and disclosure. The Sacramento Bee recently editorialized on this issue, saying, “When feathering your own nest, best to keep quiet about it.”
- In a recent report known as “The Illusion of Autonomy,” the prestigious law firm Olson, Hagel & Fishburn found that charters provide no better protection for local tax dollars than General Law cities. In fact, the City Council in Emeryville recently discussed the idea of having a charter for the sole purpose of gaining more flexibility to impose tax hikes on residents. Given the lower bar to raise taxes, it is not surprising that some taxes are as much as 15 times higher than in General Law cities.
Though some proponents called for as many as 30 charters to be on the ballot in 2014, only 4 cities have chosen to hold charter elections in November. In 2011 and 2012, the cities of Auburn, Grover Beach, Escondido, Costa Mesa and Rancho Palos Verdes each rejected charter proposals at the ballot box. In recent years, a number of cities – including Redding, South Lake Tahoe, La Mirada and Elk Grove have considered–then abandoned–efforts to place charter proposals on the ballot.
The Middle Class Taxpayers Association is a nonprofit advocacy organization founded on the principal that a growing and prosperous middle class is the key to California’s future. This year, they launched www.CharterWarning.com to educate the public about the potential pitfalls of some city charters in California.
Contact: Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa 619-358-3805.
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Editorial note: Above text based on press release as provided by the news source: The Middle Class Taxpayers Association (MCTA) – who is solely responsible for its accuracy.