For anyone with ideas about how to improve the way Santa Rosa is governed, it's time to step up to the microphone.
Santa Rosa's charter review process — a once-a-decade mini-Constitutional Convention — hosts a special public forum Saturday.
The issues may be less weighty than those facing the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia in 1787. Instead of debating the structure of a bicameral legislature or whether to abolish the slave trade, Santa Rosa's 21-member Charter Review Committee is pondering how City Council elections should be run and who should resolve disputes with police and firefighters.
Other issues include direct elections of the mayor, the role of the Community Advisory Board and whether workers' pensions have to come through the state.
The committee, which has been meeting for months, is expected to tell the City Council by May what changes it thinks should be put before voters in the fall. The City Council makes the final decision.
The meeting runs from 10a.m. to 1 p.m. at the city's Utilities Field Operations building, 35 Stony Point Road.
Even though all its votes to date have been preliminary, the committee appears to have made up its mind on a key issue. It voted 16-0 against a directly elected mayor, citing in part the experience of former Petaluma City Council members who said that having a mayor with limited power has been challenging.
But other issues are far from settled, and whether they ever reach the ballot box could turn on input from the public.
The committee already has given a tentative thumbs-down to district elections, the most divisive issue it has faced. The straw vote was 10-6, but several members have said they will bring an open mind to Saturday's public forum.
Advocates say that if the city were sliced up into seven electoral districts, City Council members would be more accountable to voters. Currently Santa Rosa, like 92 percent of the state's 484cities, has citywide elections for its seven council members.
Supporters argue district elections would bring some geographic diversity to the council because every section of the city would have a representative.
And they claim that by shrinking the size of the area in which candidates would need to campaign, costs would drop and political newcomers would be able to serve, resulting in a more economically diverse council.
Questions also have been raised about whether the city, with a 29 percent Latino population, could face a lawsuit alleging minorities are being disenfranchised by an unequal electoral process.
Opponents of the idea say there is diversity on the council. They point to Mayor Ernesto Olivares, who is Latino, Councilman John Sawyer, who is gay, and former Councilman Lee Pierce, who is black.
"I don't see anything that's broken here that needs to be fixed," said committee member Herb Williams, a campaign consultant who worked for Olivares, Sawyer and Pierce.
Critics also worry that chopping up the city into districts risks the "balkanization" of city politics. City Council members should be looking out for the city as a whole, not just issues in their own back yards, they argue. They also say election costs will ultimately rise once special interests get involved.
They note that district elections won't necessarily bring economic diversity to the council because people with regular jobs can't afford the time commitment.