Wording changes

Many of the other Measure EE provisions make minor changes to wording, like changing "he" to "he or she."

A few others truncate longer policies and defer to state law, like a provision that removes a paragraph of explanation for how the city must notify the public of special council meetings with the requirement that the council follow the state's Ralph M. Brown Act, which sets standards for government transparency.

But even small changes, critics say, could have broader implications.

Mosher said the charter's current open meetings policy is stronger than the Brown Act — and that's a good thing.

"That's just going to be cast out, [so we're] just relying on the Brown Act?" Mosher asked. "Why?"

Another provision that's drawn critics' ire is one that would allow the city to publish yearly financial audits online instead of in a newspaper.

Curry said the council hasn't run the more than 200-page audit in a physical paper for years.

The audit, Curry said, is already easily accessible online.

Officials have also said that a change to allow council members to receive $1,227.35 per month in compensation is a language update, rather than a substantive change.

Curry said that the council already receives that amount, only it is currently characterized as "reimbursement for expenses," thanks to tax loophole maneuvering by city officials back in the '60s.

The new wording, he has said, changes nothing, but makes the compensation more transparent.

Ron Hendrickson, a Measure EE opponent, said in cases like these, it's a matter of process.

"The city's trying to change the charter to match what they've been doing," he said. "That seems backwards."

Harp said that in murky areas that state law doesn't fill in, not much happens if the city doesn't precisely comply with the charter, unless someone sues.

He said someone could bring a lawsuit against the city for not complying with its own charter, but it would come at an unnecessary cost to taxpayers.

Ultimately, Curry said, the proposed changes are meant to make the city fiscally and operationally efficient, not fundamentally change its values or direction.

"The changes make [the charter] more relevant to the 21st century," he said. "You only get the opportunity every two years to do the things we need to do."


Twitter: @jillcowan