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AB 1217: The Opening Wedge to State Take-Over of Joint Powers Authorities

Legislation Going to Governor, Cities Urged to Request Veto

August 24, 2016
A bill on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk will establish the legal precedent for state interference in the governance of local joint powers authorities (JPAs). AB 1217 (Daly) is limited in scope to the Orange County Fire Authority, but opens the door to state micromanagement of JPAs throughout California.
 
Conflicts with Local Control and Subsidiarity
 
The bill codifies a change that the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) has already imposed on itself, namely preventing its board members from appointing alternates. This begs the question of why this legislation is even necessary. At this point its sole value is that of establishing a legal precedent of state interference in the governance structure of a joint powers authority, opening the door to future and far more intrusive state interference in the internal affairs of these local agencies, in direct contradiction to the doctrine of subsidiarity.
 
Origins: Collective Bargaining Dispute
 
AB 1217 was initially related to collective bargaining negotiations pending between OCFA and a local labor union. The bill has been significantly amended from its original form, which sought to reduce the size of OCFA, thereby disenfranchising a number of its member cities. The specifics of the collective bargaining dispute are irrelevant. The heart of the matter is the disturbing precedent for all joint powers authorities if this measure should meet with the Governor’s approval. 
 
Why the Bill Represents a Bad Legal Precedent
 
JPAs are set up to be entirely self-governing. They are empowered to set rules of membership and take various actions affecting their own governance, including dissolution, if that is agreed upon by the local agencies who voluntarily formed it in the first place. The agencies forming the JPAs are therefore in the best position to set the rules of governance, not the Legislature.  
 
Not Really a District Bill
 
Again, this measure establishes the troubling legal precedent of state interference in the governance of a JPA. It is far from being, as it has been characterized, merely a district bill. If that were true, the cities of West Hollywood, Visalia, and Burlingame, jurisdictions far beyond the borders of Orange County would not be opposed. They see this bill for the opening wedge that it is.
 
A Peek behind the Curtain
 
Another telling motivation for this measure is language which appeared in the June 23, 2016 version of the bill, but was removed in the face of vigorous opposition from a combination of Senate Republicans representing Orange County, the League of California Cities® and cities most directly affected:
  • Section 1. It is the intent of the Legislature to reevaluate the structure of the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fire Authority within a reasonable date of the effect of this act to consider the effectiveness of the size and structure of the board. 
The objective was one of continued oversight and interference by the Legislature in the governance and internal affairs of a local joint powers authority, voluntarily formed by local agencies with a common agenda. A hammer of this kind would have subverted the credibility of joint powers law in California, which purports to empower local agencies to act cooperatively to resolve their own challenges and problems without calling upon the state for assistance. While the above language is no longer contained in AB 1217, it continues to inform the lingering motive behind the bill: to use state legislation as a weapon against the duly authorized exercise of local authority.
 
Why All California Cities have a Stake in the Outcome
 
Even if your city is outside Orange County and not immediately affected by this measure, your mayor or city manager should be urged to send a letter requesting a veto. This bill still sets a bad precedent in that it represents state interference in the governance of a local joint powers authority. Today it is a measure affecting a lone joint powers authority. Tomorrow, it may be another bill hitting much closer to home, interfering with one of your local agencies, and citing AB 1217 as a precedent. 
 
Next Steps
 
Cities are encouraged to contact the Governor immediately to urge him to veto this precedent setting legislation. The League has prepared a sample letter that cities can use, which is available at www.cacities.org/billsearch. Type AB 1217 into the search function to access the letter.


 
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