Santa Rosa is preparing for an exhaustive review of the structure of its government, one that could include anything from how council members and the mayor are elected to what type of pensions city workers should receive.
The City Council will take the first step toward forming a Charter Review Committee at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.
Each council member will eventually appoint three members to the committee, which is expected to take five months to complete its review of the city. Suggested changes would likely go before voters in November 2012, though a special election could be held sooner.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares wants to appoint local attorney Michael Senneff to chair the committee, citing his experience. Senneff chaired the committee in 1994 and again in 2002. The city is required to review the charter every 10 years.
The previous committee recommended three changes for the November 2002 ballot aimed at increasing diversity in city politics.
Measure L proposed appointments to city boards and commissions be made by individual council members rather than the council as a whole.
Measure M recommended a 150 percent increase in salary for City Council members, allowing more people to afford to serve.
Measure O proposed campaign finance reform.
Measures O and L passed, while Measure M was defeated.
This time around, the commission has a host of issues it could tackle. Fowler's staff report lists eight.
The most contentious is likely to involve pensions and binding arbitration.
Currently, the city charter calls for its workers to receive pensions through the California Employee Retirement System. Some see this as restricting the city's ability to switch to a 401k or hybrid type of pension plan, which CalPERS does not offer.
Binding arbitration for police and fire has also come up in recent months as another issue the committee should review. Voters approved binding arbitration in 1996, requiring the city to offer compensation comparable to other cities of relatively equal size and requiring binding arbitration when negotiations with the city stall.
Some have argued that binding arbitration is directly responsible for the increasing pay and benefits given to the city's police and firefighters. Others have downplayed its role, noting that the city has never taken a public safety union to binding arbitration.
Bob Andrews, who served on the city's Pension Reform Task Force, said he was disappointed the group declined to list removing binding arbitration from the charter as an option in its report. Public safety representatives on the group argued binding arbitration is unrelated to pensions, he said.
"That's like saying the ankle bone is not connected to the leg bone. It's terribly important," Andrews said.
Andrews said he would be willing to serve on the committee if asked.
Other issues the staff report suggests the committee might address include district elections instead of city-wide ones; direct election of the mayor; streamline the competitive bidding process and/or allowing projects designed and built by the same vendor; clarification of the rules preventing a mayor from serving two successive terms; and the role of the Community Advisory Board.
Council members could announce their appointments at the Aug. 30 council meeting, Fowler said.
Members need only be city residents and registered voters. Applications are available on the city's Web site under boards and commissions.