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SLOJX CHARTER 1911 CHARTER CITY SAN LUIS OBISPO Joseph A. Carotenuti While the first attempt to promote San Luis Obispo as a charter city (1907) met with voter disapproval, there were those who knew determination had its own rewards. Since the earlier proposed charter has not been found except for its Table of Contents, comparison with the second version is not possible but it is likely the same issues predominated the deliberations and formation of the new charter. Here’s the story. Again, fifteen Freeholders were elected on April 11, 1910. The issue quickly became which fifteen to place on the ballot as “factions” demanded representation. Some even considered abandoning the idea to become a “fifth class” city. By State law, freeholders were required to be residents and voters in the community for at least five years. The more difficult issue was who would represent the special interest groups identified as the Merchant’s Association, Chamber of Commerce, and Municipal League. In a joint meeting, a slate of candidates was chosen for election. In effect, those elected become the local founding fathers. Only three of the original Freeholders served on the new group: • Warren M. John, the new postmaster, with no affiliation with a faction was chosen chairman of the group. His wife, Callie, would become the longest serving City Clerk (1913-1941). • Dr. William M. Stover (a Chamber of Commerce representative) was twice elected mayor (1915-1919). • Louis F. Sinsheimer – representing the Merchant’s Association - would become the longest serving Mayor in the City’s history (1919- 1939). Additionally, the Daily Telegram emphasized some of the benefits of regulation by a charter “not obtainable under any of the ‘class’ designations” for communities: no sudden rises in taxes, clear provisions as to street work, procedures for obtaining park sites, holding the water works “forever,” removing “faithless” public officials, procedures for the “people” to initiate legislation, public “say’ as to the granting of a public utility franchise, abolishing useless offices, and competitive bidding for public works. High expectations and results were again demanded of the Freeholders. The Charter was completed on July 8 – within the statutory 90 days for formulation – and accepted by the Council the next day with an election scheduled for early September. Undoubtedly, some provisions, if not most, replicated the first charter. If adopted, the new charter would transform the operations of the community. Proposed changes began at the top. The Mayor’s role as chief executive officer also required a yearly report on city affairs, employing a “competent” accountant to examine financial transactions, and supervision of the public utilities….especially water. Each of the four councilmen became a Commissioner: Public Health and Safety, Supplies, Public Works, and Revenue and Finance expected to exercise “active management and control” of his department. No issue could be decided if a department’s Commissioner was not present. Some 56 specific “powers” were reserved to the elected officials. Bureaucracy was addressed as “useless offices” needed to be abolished as well as consolidated. The Charter specifically addressed the creation of staff positions most notably adding a police chief with the proviso (among many) that any fee collected be sent to the treasurer. Library trustees served without compensation. As detailed by the newspaper, city taxes needed to be “limited” and prevented from any “sudden raise in the rate as was done a few months ago.” The result in the charter was a calendar for preliminary and draft budgets starting four months before a final levy. The rate not to exceed 85 cents per $100 assess valuation did not include a school budget and bonded indebtedness. The annual Tax Levy varied but hovered around $2.25. As the community was spreading geographically, streets, sidewalks, sewage, and water came to dominate city business and budgets requiring “provisions.” A major proposal was to consolidate duties of the city engineer as “superintendent” for streets and water. Public work contracts were awarded to the lowest bidder warned against collusion between council members or among bidders. Some stipulation was required to permit the people to have legislation voted upon and not petition “trustees as rulers” to do so. Residents needed the means to influence government beyond voting for candidates. Articles XIII and XIV provided the citizenry with initiative and referendum procedures. Article XII specified recall procedures for the removal of “faithless” elected officials. Anyone elected had three months before the voters could start a petition of recall. Expectations ran high as – if adopted – the charter of 17 Articles and 110 Sections would transform the operations and character of the community. A simple majority vote was needed to pass the new Charter. The choice was clear: a charter city had more command of its municipal destiny than a community controlled by the authorities in Sacramento. On September 12, 1910, the people voted and the City began a fresh career. Of the 821 voters, 65% approved the charter. The former mission settlement for 84 years, then town for 20 years and with only 35 years experience as a city was now starting a new municipal chapter. The next step was to send the approved charter to the Secretary of State a few days before Christmas. Both the Senate and Assembly ratified the Charter on January 16 and February 17, 1911 respectively. Another election was required on the first Monday in May with subsequent elections being held in April beginning in 1913. In the meanwhile, the officials – both elected and appointed – remained in office. On Monday, May 15, 1911, the first Charter City Council convened with Mayor Archibald McAlister, four council members (including two carryover officials) and most appointed personnel continuing to serve the community. One hundred years later, after some 50 elections and twenty mayors along with various amendments, we remain a Charter City.