Feb 12 2018

OPINION: Proposed Charter Changes Require Discourse with Piedmonters Before Being Placed on a Ballot

Piedmont League of Women Voters has sent the following letter to the Piedmont City Council urging adequate community input prior to placing proposed Piedmont City Charter changes on the June or November ballot. 

February 9, 2018

Mayor Bob McBain

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue Piedmont, CA 94611

Dear Mayor McBain,

The issue of revisions to the Piedmont City Charter and the governing of our city are of considerable concern to the Piedmont League of Women Voters (LWVP) and equally, I am sure, to all the residents of Piedmont. In fact, recently our League conducted an in-depth study and developed a position on local elections which, among other things, included criteria for selecting our mayor.

After viewing the City Council meeting of February 5th our board met and discussed the implications of the Council’s action regarding revisions to three items of the City Charter: term limits for the City Council and PUSD School Board, provisions for filling a vacant seat and general fund reserves. The quick timing of this action is of great concern because it does not allow for adequate community input and discourse between the Council and residents prior to adopting and placing these items on the June ballot.

The League of Women Voters has a position that “believes that democratic government depends upon informed and active participation at all levels of government. The League further believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.”

Therefore, LWVP urges a public meeting for a two-way discussion on these proposed charter changes so that the public has sufficient opportunity to share its input with the Council and for the Council to consider any revisions to the three proposals. If there is insufficient time for a two-way discussion with the public, we then urge the Council to reconsider its decision to put these charter changes on the June ballot.

In addition, with respect to those City Charter amendments proposed for the November ballot, we respectfully request that the City Council engage in a meaningful and adequate dialogue, as noted above, before any amendments are placed on the November ballot.


Katy Foulkes
President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

cc All City Council members

Paul Benoit, City Administrator

John Tulloch, City Clerk

PUSD School Board

LWVPiedmont,  325 Ramona Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94610 lwvpiedmont@gmail.com

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

4 Responses to “OPINION: Proposed Charter Changes Require Discourse with Piedmonters Before Being Placed on a Ballot”

  1. League of Women Voters (LWV) is correct – the quick timing of this proposal does not allow for adequate public input, just one of several procedural shortcomings. The City has taken to publishing an “Advanced Notice” of upcoming agenda items – Charter changes was not on that list. Council has cancelled a standing meeting in February requiring that the Charter changes be brought back March 5, the deadline for getting initiatives on the June ballot. Regarding the term limits proposal, the agendized topic at the February 5 meeting was to prohibit former councilmembers from ever again running for City Council. That topic was quickly replaced by the new “8-year” rule and the need to get it on the June ballot before councilmembers could weigh in on the merits of either proposal. The City Attorney opined that once Council decides to impose them, term limit changes are generally put on the next available ballot but she was probably referring to limits that affect sitting officials, not former ones. By proceeding under this advice, Council appears to have stepped into a real conflict of interest. By considering the term-limit Charter change for the June ballot, Council prohibits some former councilmembers from running again in the November 2018 election. As three current members are likely to run again in that election, incumbent officials are advocating for a change that directly affects their re-election. The City Attorney could clarify this by deciding whether former councilmembers are “grandfathered” under the proposed term-limit changes.

  2. The League of Women Voters is commenting on a fundamental issue and good to see they are weighing in on this. Changing the City Charter is a critical issue. In 1976 a Charter Review Committee of residents was formed. That committee worked almost four years before an amended Charter was brought before voters in 1980. Given the breadth of the proposed changes contemplated by Staff, I do not believe an issue of this importance and magnitude should be left for the City Council alone to decipher. We need thoughtful resident input and I suggest a Charter Committee be formed.

    Concurrently an Open Government Ordinance is needed; such an ordinance sunshines the Brown Act and extends the minimum three day notice requirement. I think a seven day notice requirement is appropriate though some Cities use eleven days. This allows the community to weigh in on important issues and allow residents who are otherwise occupied, such as Christmas when the Piedmont Post CUP was heard or this item over Super Bowl weekend, to have ample time to comment.

  3. The bewildering discussion of City Council’s City Charter change proposal was on display at last night’s School Board meeting. Don’t blame the Board – it was being asked to approve a plan for its members it had no hand in drafting so naturally there was some confusion. Part of the confusion stems from Council’s pitching this as a “good governance” term-limit initiative when in fact it is nothing of the sort. It is better labeled as a “return” initiative – termed-out Council and School Board members cannot return and run again until 8 years has passed since their last term ended. Currently, the allowed hiatus is 4 years. More confusion stems from why this initiative has to be rushed to the June ballot. According to the City Clerk, the change has to be in place by the November 2018 election so the terms apply to the current Council Members seeking re-election. The City Attorney needs to clarify this point – why elections limits approved at the ballot don’t apply to candidates elected on the same ballot. Council claims the 8-year “benching” will make it easier for new candidates to run for office but by restricting who can run in 2018, the initiative protects Council members in their own re-election bids. Perhaps the City Attorney will provide an opinion on that conflict of interest. Other City Charter changes are being slated for the November ballot and the City could save $50,000 by putting all Charter changes on that ballot.

  4. This appears to be a conflict of interest by sitting Council members who stand to benefit by a quick ballot measure. Changing the City Charter should not be done so haphazardly or quickly. What is the emergency? Surely it cannot be the need to raise the General Fund 25% limit as virtually all City funds are quite healthy.

Leave a Comment