By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Petaluma City Council candidate wants to put a measure on the November ballot that would change how the city negotiates contracts.
Such a measure would allow a renegotiation of the recent garbage contract that could save ratepayers an estimated 10 percent.
Ray Johnson, a retired telecom executive, this week alerted the city he would pursue signature gathering to place the item before voters. He must gather signatures of 15 percent, or about 4,500, registered Petaluma voters. The deadline to place items on the ballot is Aug. 6.
Johnson said he was frustrated by the council’s rejection of the same idea brought forward by Councilmen Mike Healy and Mike Harris in April. The council voted 4-3, along its typical voting lines, to reject Healy’s proposal to discuss a ballot measure that would change the city charter provisions on contracts.
Mayor Pam Torliatt and council members David Glass, Teresa Barrett and Tiffany Renee voted against it while Healy, Harris and David Rabbitt voted to explore a ballot measure.
“It is quite apparent the Petaluma City Council majority is in a state of mental gridlock. By one simple vote, it could have cleared the way for the voters to voice their opinion if they wanted a 10 percent decrease in the cost for removing our trash,” Johnson said.
Healy and Harris said the charter question — and possible garbage-bill reductions — would be a powerful message next to an approved ballot measure that would roll back sewer rates to 2006 levels, which council members say would devastate city finances.
“If he can pull that off, it will be a very impressive accomplishment,” Healy said of Johnson’s endeavor.
Harris said he supports a comprehensive review of the city’s entire charter, not just one aspect.
“But this amendment could have an immediate effect on the pocket books of people in Petaluma, so I would support this proposed amendment to go before the voters,” he said. “People are struggling in our community and a little relief could go a long way.”
Renee called Johnson naïve and said the measure would be costly and likely would affect other city services.
Torliatt said placing a charter amendment on the ballot would incur costs without guaranteeing a savings to garbage customers.
“We need to see how North Bay performs,” she said before voting to discuss a renegotiation.
In March, North Bay Corp. took over from San Jose-based Green Waste, which had won a 10-year city garbage contract in 2006.
North Bay had offered a 10 percent rate reduction for residents and 3 percent for businesses if its contract could be extended another 5 years. But the city charter prohibits the extension of a utility contract until a year of its expiration date.
“Thirty years as a business executive has convinced me that it is extremely bad business practice to limit any renegotiation capability,” Johnson said.
He said it will be a push to gather enough signatures, but said he is motivated to put the issue to voters.
A ballot measure could cost the city between $8,000 and $15,000, City Manager John Brown said.