The next question for citizens of Buellton apparently is “to be or not to be” a charter city.

But before citizens can decide, they must await decision-making by the City Council, whose members are in the midst of educating themselves about the pros and cons of a charter.

Actually, there’s already an abundance of information about the overall value of home rule, which is a status achieved by a city that chooses a charter over the general-law classification that is still used by 357 of the state’s 478 cities.

“Home rule” is exactly what the name implies — decisions about how a city is to conduct its business and elect its leaders are made locally, and not bound by California law.

That doesn’t mean a city secedes when its voters opt to switch from general-rule to charter status. It remains a part of the network of incorporated municipalities that are part of the food chain that feeds counties, then the state.

But being a charter city does mean that local elected officials and voters can make more of their own decisions, and are therefore better able to tailor policy to fit specific local needs.

Or, as one Buellton resident told us a while back: “It ain’t exactly rocket science.” Still, we can’t fault the City Council for wanting plenty of time to study the pros and cons of becoming a charter city.

The City Council is continuing its study of the issue, with the help of a special citizens’ commission, and the question may go on the November 2014 ballot.

One area of concern is how the city will award contracts for projects. As a general-law city, Buellton is required to put all jobs out for competitive bidding, and the contract must go to the low bidder. That may seem to be common sense, the lowest-bidder part, but there are situations when the low bidder may not be the best outfit for the job.

For example, a charter city can award a contract as it sees fit, which means it can give the work to a local company with local employees. Even if the job costs a few dollars more than it would have with an out-of-town low bidder, the money the city pays the local contractor generally comes back to the city in the form of sales taxes and other fees. Call it a home-field advantage.

Being a charter city also lets local government off the hook for paying a prevailing wage. Labor unions don’t like that possibility, and the reality is that charter cities tend to stick with prevailing-wage scales anyway. But it’s an aspect of the charter question that should be thoroughly discussed.

Buellton residents need to think about the pros and cons, and talk to their elected representatives about how they feel. Meanwhile, the best thing the city staff and council members can do is educate themselves and the citizenry about moving from general-law to charter status, talk to constituents, then let the voters decide.


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