LCW Partner Michael Youril Defeats DSA’s Writ To Compel Compliance With An Unconstitutional Voter Initiative

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Jun 06, 2023

In 1976, County voters passed an initiative Measure that became effective 1977 and was followed until 2021.  The Measure required the County Board of Supervisors (Board) to annually set deputies’ salaries at a level equal to the average corresponding salaries in three neighboring counties.  In 1980, another voter initiative established the County’s charter.  Two voter initiatives to repeal the salary-setting Measure failed.   In September 2021, the Board introduced an ordinance that repealed the salary-setting Measure and amended the County Code to read that, “…the Board …shall negotiate and set compensation for all employees represented by [the DSA and others]”.  The Board did not seek voter approval before issuing the ordinance.  The DSA filed a writ of mandate arguing that the County violated the Elections Code by failing to submit the repeal to voters.

The County filed a motion for summary judgment (MSJ) to have the case dismissed.  The County argued the Measure was unconstitutional from the outset, and therefore it was not necessary to submit the ordinance to repeal the Measure for voter approval.  The Superior Court agreed.

The Court ruled that the California Constitution allows the Board, as the governing body, to provide for the number, compensation, tenure, and appointment of employees.  Though the Constitution allows the Board to delegate the power to set employee compensation, the Court found no such delegation here.  Rather, the voters passed the Measure without the authority to do so, making it unconstitutional and invalid at its inception.

Even assuming the Measure was valid at its inception, the Court found the County Charter and Meyers-Milias-Brown-Act (MMBA) also both independently superseded the Measure.  The Court held the Charter unequivocally delegates authority to the Board to fix employee compensation.  Moreover, the MMBA requires public agencies to meet and confer in good faith on “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Here, while the Measure did not eliminate that duty, it effectively rendered salaries non-negotiable because it mandated a set formula for calculating wages annually.  It further eliminated the ability of the Board to implement a last, best, and final offer under the MMBA.

Accordingly, as a matter of law, the County was entitled to full dismissal of the lawsuit.

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