By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa voters will have two more questions to answer at the ballot box this fall.
One, should the city change the guidelines for the arbitration process used to settle public safety contract disputes?
Two, should the city allow city projects to be designed and built by the same company?
The Santa Rosa City Council voted Tuesday to let voters decide these issues, both of which were recommended by the Charter Review Committee.
The first question was one of the thorniest tackled by the 21-member committee, which meets every decade to recommend changes to the city’s by-laws.
State law prohibits police and firefighters from striking. In recognition of this, Santa Rosa requires contract disputes with public safety groups be resolved by a panel of independent arbitrators.
The city, however, worries that the guidelines for arbitrators are vague, particularly on the issue of the city’s ability to pay for a contract.
“What does the ability to pay mean? It’s kind of a subjective determination,” City Attorney Caroline Fowler said.
So the committee suggested adding specific guidelines that an arbitrator must use to determine whether a city could afford to pay, including whether the city has a general fund deficit, can’t pay its debts to third parties or is facing layoffs.
Other changes include allowing the arbitrators to be reduced from a panel of three to just one and prohibiting disciplinary matters from going to arbitration.
Several council members expressed appreciation that the Charter Review Committee had resolved one of its “hot button” issues in a collaborative way with representatives of public safety groups, who supported the changes.
“I like the fact that this is fair to all sides,” Councilman Jake Ours said.
The second question involves whether city should change the charter to allow what is known as “design-build” projects. Currently, the charter prohibits a company that designs public project from also building it.
But city staff say there are times when this provision doesn’t serve the city’s best interests.
Energy projects in particular are often designed and installed by the same contractor. For most city projects, projects that are designed and built separately will still be the preferred method, said Tasha Wright. But in some limited projects, the design-build process would at least give the city another option that could be less expensive than the current approach, Wright said.
“Right now we don’t have another option,” she said.
The council already has agreed to put district elections on the November ballot, as well as a “clean-up” measure that makes several minor changes to the charter language.
Each measure is expected to cost the city about $75,000. Councilman Gary Wysocky wants the council to consider another ballot measure not recommended by the charter committee — amending the steadily increasing baseline funding mandate of Measure O, the quarter-cent sales tax for public safety and gang prevention.
Fowler said she would return to the council in late July with a presentation on that subject.