Guest View: Let’s talk about county charters
March 25, 2009
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has, as required by the county charter, appointed a five member Charter Review Committee (together with five alternates), to review the charter and, as required by the charter, after at least two public hearings, make recommendations for amendments to or revisions thereof to the board. The first (organizational) meeting of the committee will be March 26 at 2 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers. For all who know little or perhaps nothing about the county charter, the following might be of interest.
What is a county charter? A county charter is a basic framework for the organization and procedures of county government. Within certain limits of state law, a county charter allows the electorate of a county to design its own county government structure, and to determine how the processes of county government will work. Counties that do not have a charter are termed “general law” counties. Only 14 (about 25 percent) of California’s 58 counties have their own county charter. These charter counties range in size from Tehama to Los Angeles and most of them are counties with major urban centers ” the exceptions being El Dorado, Placer, Butte, and Tehama. Unlike a charter city, the freedom that a charter county has versus a general law county is pretty minimal, and really only has to do with the governance structure.
How did the El Dorado County Charter come about? In January 1994, under the leadership of Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Nielsen, a 10-member commission was appointed that, after 21 public meetings, drafted a proposed charter for the county. The proposed charter was submitted to and approved by the voters in November 1994 and became effective the following month. The ballot, as originally submitted to the electorate, included the proposed charter, an analysis of same by then county counsel Sam Neasham, and the arguments pro and con. A copy of the original ballot language, the analysis, and the arguments are available at the Elections Department in Building C in the Government Center in Placerville. They are interesting reading and I urge you to get a copy. The charter itself is a short, easily read document of nine pages and is available online or a print copy can be picked up at the County Clerk’s Office. The charter has been amended three times since its adoption, the last time in 2004.
The charter: Article VII requires the Board of Supervisors to convene a Charter Review Committee within five years of the last review and, as noted above, the committee will hold its organizing meeting March 26. Subsequent public meetings, presumably one in each supervisorial district, will be announced.
One of the reasons given for the original adoption of the charter was that it could only be amended or revised by the people, and therein, it seems to me, lies the possibility of a major problem: Suppose that the Charter Review Committee, after it holds its public meetings, drafts its recommendations and present them to the Board of Supervisors to be included on the ballot, is met with a Board of Supervisors that, after reading the recommendations, says nix to some or all of them? There is no provision in the charter that says the Board of Supervisors has to accept and put the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations on the ballot.
That, in my opinion, is but one of the problems the Charter Review Committee will be facing as it, and the public, face the upcoming review of our county charter. I urge all interested members of the public to get a copy of the current charter, as well as a copy of the original proposal together with its analysis, the arguments pro and con, and attend the upcoming meetings.
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” Clarence Dilts is a Placerville resident who was active in
formulating the El Dorado County Charter.