On 3-2 vote Antioch Council adds 20-year sunset clause, public oversight to sales tax measure; will hold fourth special meeting on Thursday

Measure requires votes of four council members to place on ballot.

By Allen Payton

During a third special meeting to deal with the one-cent sales tax measure for the November ballot, the Antioch City Council, on Tuesday voted 3-2 to add a 20-year termination, known as a sunset, and the continuation of the citizens’ oversight committee to the language. Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and Councilwoman Monica Wilson were the dissenting votes.  The measure will double the current half-cent sales tax of Measure C to a full one-cent tax on every dollar spent on items to which the state sales tax is applied. (See related article)

But, in a perfect example of haste makes waste, even after all their discussions and actions during the three special meetings, in a last-minute effort to place the measure on the November ballot before the August 10th deadline, the council still didn’t get it done correctly and will have to return for a fourth special meeting on Thursday. That’s because it takes a two-thirds vote of the council to place a sales tax measure on the ballot, which means the votes of at least four of the five council members, not just a majority of three. (See Council Meeting Agenda, here: ACC080918)

Interim City Attorney Derek Cole took responsibility for the mistake.

“There is a provision in the state Revenue and Tax Code that requires a two-thirds vote of the council to place a transaction and use tax measure on the ballot,” he explained. “In the heat of the moment I did not properly advise the council. It was entirely an error on my part. If they don’t have a super majority they are not allowed to put the measure before the voters.”

“It still requires only a majority of voters to pass it in November,” Cole added.

That means either or both Thorpe and Wilson will have to vote in favor of placing the measure on the ballot. Thorpe was asked about that fact.

“That could potentially be an outcome and it may have been a different vote, last night had they explained that,” he responded. “Maybe we would have come up with a different resolution.”

The Thursday, Aug. 9th meeting will be held at 5:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall located at 200 H Street.

Council Adds Sunset Clause, Oversight to Ballot Measure Language

“The 20-year sunset was not included in the survey,” City Manager Ron Bernal stated in his opening remarks. “Therefore, we do not know how the voters will respond.”

In discussing adding the sunset clause, Mayor Sean Wright offered a nine-year termination instead of the 20-year approved by the council at last Friday’s special meeting. That was in response to Bernal stating that if the council included the sunset that the city’s consultant suggested a single digit, nine-year term.

Only one member of the public spoke on the item, Antioch resident and regular council meeting attendee, Marty Fernandez referring to the part of the ballot measure language about ensuring water quality.

“Isn’t that why our water bills went up last month?” he asked. “You need to face reality. You haven’t once mentioned unfunded liabilities and pensions. (City Finance Director) Dawn Merchant has been telling you for five years you’re going to run out of money. What’s the plan? What happens if this measure doesn’t pass?

Thorpe and Wilson served on the council appointed ad hoc committee which conducted two polls, surveying likely Antioch voters over the past year-and-a-half. They were not happy with including a sunset clause.

When asked who developed the survey questions, Wilson responded “RM3”, the consulting firm hired to perform the survey. Asked if the subcommittee members and city staff provided any input, she responded, “They took our opinion, but mainly RM3” developed the questions.

When asked why a question about a sunset clause wasn’t included Bernal responded, “the survey included normal questions. The goal was a quality of life survey and how things are going.”

“We did two surveys,” Thorpe explained. “The first one included a tax measure without a sunset. It was supported overwhelmingly. So, there was no need to refine it for the second survey.”

Before the vote on the motion by Council Members Lori Ogorchock and Tony Tiscareno, Wilson said “I believe this measure needs to go on the ballot. But, I’m opposed to this 20-year time frame.”

Thorpe went further, blasting the three council members who supported adding the sunset.

“It’s disappointing after a year-and-a-half of work, not just us, but department heads…ensured it had guard rails in it, that after all that work, it gets thrown out the window,” he stated. “This was one of Ron’s (Bernal’s) outcomes. He brought in the best and brightest in California. The Chief (of Police Tammany Brooks) was one of the main people out there asking for the public’s input.”

“I am beyond disbelief and disgust,” Thorpe continued. “I can only shake my head at the level of foolishness to endanger our ballot measure. Other than trying to people please, when the people we’re trying to please are the ones who were surveyed.”

Then he took a swipe at City Clerk Arne Simonsen who has been critic of the sales tax on social media.

“I’m also disappointed you, City Clerk have participated in some of the undermining,” Thorpe added.

Tiscareno responded, saying “I think we can get this thing passed as it is. This is an extension to Measure C. If this measure fails because of a sunset, then I’ve failed our police department.”

“I feel as confident as I did when we looked at Measure C. I truly believe we’re going to do well. All we need is 50 percent plus one,” he added. “I respect the work that you did. I just want to make sure we do what’s in the best interest of the city.”

Mayor Sean Wright also responded to Thorpe, taking him to task.

“I think it’s unfair to reprimand the council for not listening to the ad hoc committee,” he said. “The ad hoc committee is asked to do work and come back and for the council to think and deliberate on that and not to blindly follow. You may disagree with that. But, to have something put in front of me and given three days to think about and discuss what’s been worked on for the last nine months is I think a little unfair to council, to then say blindly do this and trust us because we’ve done the work without us being able to have that same amount of time. I think the past two weeks has given us an opportunity to be able to look and discuss and I think council has come to the realization and understanding what some of our constituents have asked for. They have asked for oversight…they have asked for a sunset. The truth is if we can get more and more people on board, there is not one person in the community is going to come yell at me for adding a sunset. No one is going to yell at me for putting oversight on this. So, just because it wasn’t polled…that might have been nice to have been polled and have those numbers.”

Ogorchock had earlier and at previous meetings shared the same concern of a short time period being given to the rest of the council to discuss and decide on the ballot measure and the language it should contain.

The final ballot language adopted for the measure is as follows:

Antioch’s Quality of Life Measure. To maintain Antioch’s fiscal stability, police patrols, 911 emergency response, youth violence prevention programs; ensuring water quality/safety; repairing streets; cleaning up parks/illegal dumping; restoring youth afterschool/summer programs; other essential services; shall the measure be adopted approving an ordinance to renew the sales tax at the one-cent rate, raising approximately $14,000,000 annually,  expiring in twenty years, with mandatory annual independent financial audits, and independent citizens oversight?

To watch Tuesday’s council meeting via streaming on the city’s website, click here.

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