Watchdog: General Law Cities vs. Charter Cities

Watchdog-LogoBy Barbara Zivica

The Antioch City Council has held several budget meetings, with more to come on May 12th and 26th, prior to presentation of the whole budget on June 23rd.

I won’t get into the facts and figures presented by the city’s finance director because I’m up to date on that subject matter. I did, however, became alarmed when Antioch resident and real estate broker Mark Jordan, asked where the city would find the money to deal with under funded retirement accounts. The solution he offered was to convert the city into a charter city and begin charging transfer fees on real property, two bad ideas that apparently drew favorable responses from Mayor Harper and Council Member Tiscareno who then asked City Manager Duran for more information. Let’s take a look at Mr. Jordan’s “solutions:”

Although Mr. Jordan is correct in stating that only charter cities may impose a real property transfer tax, both general law and charter cities have the power to tax. Currently the property transfer tax is limited to $1.10 per $1,000 with it split 50/50 between the county and city. If a charter city increases its property transfer tax, the county gets the full $1.10 per $1,000 and the city keeps the amount it sets above $1.10. The amount of revenue the charter city would receive depends on how many existing and new homes are sold and resold.

General Law Cities vs. Charter Cities

Just a few of the many differences are: General law cities are governed by a city council of five members, charter cities can provide for any form of government including the “strong mayor” and city manager forms (No wonder Harper is interested in this form of government although he did back off on his recent request for a mayor’s office assistant position.)

General law cities elections are conducted in accordance with the California elections code. Charter cites are not bound by the election code and can establish own election dates, rules and procedures. They can also establish their own criteria for city officers (provided do not violate the U.S. Constitution), set term limits, set council members salaries.

General law cities do not allow any public officer to expend and no candidate to accept public money for the purpose of seeking elected office. Charter cities permit public financing of election campaigns.

General law cities may not pass ordinances within five days of introduction unless an urgency ordinance (Mayor Harper and the council did that on 12/27/12 in order to evade a new voter approved state law increasing pension formulas for new public employees.)

Ordinances can only be passed at a regular meeting and must be read in full at time of introduction and passage. Charter cities can establish own procedures for enacting local ordinances.

General law cities require a majority of city council constitutes a quorum for transaction of business and all ordinances, resolutions, and orders for payment of money require a recorded majority vote of total membership of the council. Specific legislation requires super-majority votes for certain actions. Charter cities may establish their own procedures and quorum requirements. However, certain legislation requiring super majority votes is applicable to charter cities.

General law cities are required to have competitive bidding for public works contracts over $5,000. Such contracts must be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. Charter cities are not required to comply with bidding statues provided the city charter or city ordinance exempts the city from such statues and the subject matter of the bid constitutes a municipal affair.

General law cities must in general pay prevailing wages on public works projects over $1,000. In July 2012 the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s charter cities are not required to pay prevailing wages under state law for local public works projects funded by local funds.

General law city zoning ordinances must be consistent with the general plan. Charter city zoning orders are not required to be consistent with the general plan unless the city has adopted a consistency requirement by charter or ordinance.

2 Comments to “Watchdog: General Law Cities vs. Charter Cities”

  1. Rich says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying, but would go a little further. There are obvious pros and cons to being a Charter City – however, merely doing it for the sake of increasing revenue should NEVER be the reason. The City Manager can well sell this to Harper because of the potential change or power shift to the Mayor and/or council.

    This is going to have to be watched carefully and if put to vote I am afraid they would sell it to the constituents easily.

  2. Marty Fernandez says:

    Very bad mistake and doing it for all the wrong reasons. I think it would have to go to an election and God help us if it were to pass. Doing it for money is the wrong reason. But I agree with Rich, Duran could sell this to this council pretty easily.

    Be prepared folks.

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