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Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's in a Charter

Costa Mesa’s Charter Committee is about to meet. Let’s see what they'll write into our charter

A charter sets the governing process: it is the template for the specific rules that guide the organization.

Costa Mesa governance is controlled by federal and state laws and by City laws, called ordinances. Some aspects of operations are presently regulated by State law, although they would be regulated by the City itself under a properly-written charter.

Other laws govern us, regardless

Other aspects, such as bankruptcy rules, will be governed by federal law whether Costa Mesa becomes a Charter City or not. Bidding and contracting procedures that are designed to prevent graft and corruption will also apply regardless of whether a charter is adopted or not.

(Thus, the warning that “no-bid” contracting – actually, non-competitive contracting – will follow charter adoption is disingenuous at best. It’s already forbidden by State and City law.)

Don't reinvent it 

The easiest way to write a charter is to copy from some other organization’s document and then change it to fit the new organization. 

Many of the provisions in last year’s proposed Charter were “cut and pasted” to the charter, then refined, vetted, debated, changed and finally incorporated.

Developing a new version is likely to proceed similarly: pick the best parts from other charters, adjust and refine, debate, and incorporate.

Probably will have: 

The new charter is likely to include the following nine points:

1.     Name of the organization.
2.     Aims or goals of the organization (sometimes known as ‘objectives’)
3.     Powers
4.     Management Committee; this sets up the City Council form of government, and refers to State law for most details. For example, term limits, maximum compensation, requirements and procedure to become a candidate are well covered in state law. This way the article or paragraph would remain current.
5.     Officers; in a City Charter this will probably overlap the Management Committee.
6.     Meetings
7.     Finance; this aspect will probably refer to ordinances in our City Charter since our procedures and rules are covered in great detail. City Law is not superseded in most cases by a charter.
8.     Dissolution; this aspect is governed to a great extent by State law and to some degree by federal law.
9.     Amendments; amending a City Charter will require an election: the majority of the voters have to approve any changes. So, a charter should not be written so specifically that elections must be called (and paid for) frequently. A good example would be specifying an audit frequency; when guidelines change, the procedure should be easy to change without calling an $85K (minimum cost) election.

Consider the consequences

Like a constitution, the charter governs how the organization conducts its business, and it lives on long after its authors are gone. So, it should be written with a lot of attention to the consequences of what it decrees. 

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