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Comments on the proposed City Charter (item L2 on 13 March 2018 agenda)

From: domainremoved <Steve>
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2018 00:12:55 -0700

To Mayor Ohtaki and Council Members Keith, Mueller, Carlton, and Cline
Cc: City Attorney McClure

At your meeting of 13 February 2018 you directed the City Attorney to
"proceed with placing an enabling charter on November 2018 ballot and
set specific guidelines for instances when the City Council is
considering legislation that would vary from existing State statutes".

I am concerned that you may submit to the voters a charter that gives
you broad but vague powers that the voters will reject. The example of
the City of Davis, a general law city similar to Menlo Park, is instructive.

Two years after students at UC Davis voted in 2002 to change the way
they elect their student government to use the single transferable vote
(STV) form of ranked choice voting (RCV), the City of Davis appointed a
committee to examine if they should use a similar system to elect the
City Council. They recommended "yes", and an advisory question was put
on the November 2004 ballot, asking "Should the City of Davis consider
adopting choice voting, also known as instant runoff or preference
voting, as the system to elect City Council members?" [STV was called
"choice voting" back then.]

Measure L passed 54.7% to 45.3%. Since a general law city cannot use
STV, the City Council appointed a subcommittee to draft a charter so
that they could. But instead of a two-article charter that effectively
said "The City Council will be elected using choice voting, everything
else is covered by the general laws of the State of California", they
wrote an "enabling charter" (although they didn't call it that) that
didn't even mention how the City Council should be elected. (See
attached for what I believe was the final report of the subcommittee.)
The charter was "broad and allows for maximum flexibility" (page 11-16;
PDF page 16). It was placed on the November 4, 2008, ballot.

Needless to say, the voters rejected it. The citizens of Davis weren't
willing to buy a pig in a poke.

My conversations with various citizens of Menlo Park have led me to
believe that there is an undercurrent of mistrust with the City Council,
that there is a suspicion that the Council will give itself the
authority to dictate Menlo Park's electoral system without requiring a
vote of the people, as well as other powers that the citizens may not
approve of. If you do that, I predict that there will be vigorous
opposition to such a charter and it will lose at the ballot box.

To avoid that fiasco, I recommend the following: At a future meeting you
will be deciding whether to adopt a plan of five districts or a plan of
six districts plus a separately-elected mayor. Whatever plan you adopt
should also become the first article of your charter. The second article
would specify that everything else would be covered by general law. An
example of such a charter is attached.

Such a simple charter would be adopted easily by the City's voters, as
it would be completely transparent. All the City would be doing is
codifying whatever districting plan you adopt. Once adopted, at future
elections you could propose subsequent amendments to address other
issues, after appropriate public input. This could include changing the
electoral system, or giving the City Council additional powers, but even
if those changes are rejected by the voters, you would still be a
charter city.

I hope you find this useful.

--Steve Chessin
President, Californians for Electoral Reform
1426 Lloyd Way, Mountain View, CA 94040
(408)-276-3222(w), (650)-962-8412(h)


Received on Tue Mar 13 2018 - 00:15:37 PDT

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