A Former Mayor of a Southern California City Provides an Intellectual Argument for City Charters and Local Government Authority

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In today’s San Diego Union-Tribune (February 19, 2013), former Murrieta Mayor Doug McAllister calls for California cities to enact charters for local home rule and protection from intrusive centralized state government. See Reasons to Consider Becoming a Charter City.

I like McAllister’s philosophical approach based on federalism. He writes the following:

One of the main debates defining the distinction between the ideological left and right is the positioning of power in governing…the left believes the power to reach that goal radiates from top to bottom, while the right reverses that flow.

Then he explains the practical policy consequences of centralized, top-down governance:

…the ability of local government to protect the best interests of its residents has been consistently undermined…Today, the ability of local cities to enhance their quality of life is at significant risk.

McAllister reports correctly that numerous general law cities in California are planning to ask their citizens to enact a charter in the 2014 elections:

Many cities in our region are serious about finding ways to protect us all from a centralized government gone wild. One avenue their leaders are seriously pondering is the possibility of becoming a charter city. Most municipalities are born as general law cities. It appears that by reorganizing as a charter city, a practice not uncommon as cities mature, not only could there be certain protections against Sacramento’s agenda, but city leaders will perhaps have significantly more tools in their economic development tool belt with which to enhance our quality of life.

McAllister also warns against a defensive, campaign-oriented strategy of trying to include too many provisions in a proposed charter to try to neutralize specific attacks (from the Left, of course) against the concept:

It is said that a camel is a horse put together by a committee. If any city wants to become a charter city, they need to avoid the temptation to build a committee-created camel, cramming protections against every contingency, real or perceived, into the charter, inviting the crisis of unintended consequences. Less (camel) is more (horse). The focus of this effort should be to see how short they can make the document, not how long.

I agree with this approach. The Left (that is, unions and every other organization that wants to centralize and concentrate political power at the state capitol) will attack a charter proposal no matter what it contains. For example, they will always cite a mismanaged charter city (such as Bell) as an example of home rule failure while ignoring solid, responsible local governance in most of California’s other 121 charter cities. (They want all cities to submit to the governance of the mismanaged state government, which they control!)

For example, see how a Twitter account portraying itself as “MOTR Politics” (Middle of the Road Politics) suggests that the bankrupt City of San Bernardino needs to repeal its charter and operate instead under the wise, steady hand of the California State Legislature:

The only way to remove personalities & politics is for SB City to follow the same laws as most other cities. http://www.sbsun.com/opinions/ci_22605107/city-charter-is-ripe-reform …

It’s possible the City of San Bernardino could actually use its charter authority to help extract itself from its financial difficulties, if its elected city council had the political will and skill to challenge public employee unions. The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal reported in an August 17, 2012 article The Problem and Promise of Charter Cities that charter authority for cities such as San Bernardino can be beneficial or harmful, depending on who is in control:

Just as charters can make cities worse, they may be able to make them better—it all depends on who’s in charge. [Mayor Patrick] Morris and some other city leaders have tried to put charter reform on the local ballot, hoping to abolish the sections that inflate city workers’ pay and empower the city attorney to battle the mayor.

Such change apparently does not appeal to MOTR Politics, which seems to favor the public employee unions that apparently absorb more than 75% of the city’s general fund, as shown by these Tweets:

SB City Police & Fire unions claim SB City has abused bankruptcy & will ask bankruptcy court for permission to sue. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/13/usa-sanbernardino-unions-hearing-idUSL1N0BCIMR20130213 …

Another group – it’s police officers – will oppose SB City’s eligibility for bankruptcy protections. http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_22576996/police-seeking-lawsuit-against-san-bernardino …

SB City returns to U.S. Bankruptcy Court today at 1:30 PM where it will battle CalPERS. Is the city serious? http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_22569576/san-bernardino-filing-defends-its-level-finance-department …

Instead of responding to the arguments from advocates of oppressive and intrusive government, charter supporters need to base their arguments on the benefits of local control and the need for appropriate checks and balances against a state legislature under one-party supermajority control.

For more information on why your city should enact a charter and free itself from the grip of the state legislature and the special interest groups entrenched at the capitol, see these resources:

Charter Cities – League of California Cities

Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

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  1. […] A Former Mayor of a Southern California City Provides an Intellectual Argument for City Charters and… – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – February 19, 2013 (a commentary on Reasons to Consider Becoming a Charter City – San Diego Union-Tribune – February 19, 2013). […]