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Santa Rosa OKs 2 more charter changes for Nov. ballot

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.

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