mountainecho.com

August 27, 2012

Editorial

Filed under: Uncategorized — waltblog @ 6:14 pm

Brown Act violations continue to tarnish and bring into question not only a purported desire of “transparency” by the board of directors of the Fall River Valley Community Services District but the motives of the board as well.
In July the District Manager took a questionable step and adjusted the posted agenda, taking consideration of giving him an extra week of vacation in lieu of a raise out of open session into closed in an obvious attempt to thwart transparency. Putting that type of a personnel matter into closed session is a direct violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Additionally, he put a discussion with a hydro consultant, Kelly Sackheim, into the same closed session and listed his authority to do so as real estate, again in direct violation of the Brown Act. The law specifically states that Real Estate matters may be discussed between the board and their real estate negotiator only. The board chose to listen to a presentation regarding a hydro project, not directly a real estate project with a consultant.
A third apparent violation occurred at last week’s board meeting when Board Chair Sandi Jensen said “They” (the board) had decided not to appoint anyone to fill the vacancy left with the resignation of board member Sharon Hanson. The other two board members present, Sky Snyder and Paulette Gooch, didn’t indicate that they had not been consulted. That action left the impression that the board had a serial meeting and made a decision which should have been made in a regularly agendized meeting.
Those actions lead to the question – Are any of those violations important. The answer is a resounding yes and it has had ramifications.
1. Van den Bergh’s vacation in lieu of a raise comes at a time when the district is in the process of trying to increase its rates. The lack of transparency made the motivation, ramifications, and potential benefit or cost to the district impossible for the public to evaluate. The law states “Closed sessions of a legislative body of a local agency, as permitted in this section, shall be for the purpose of reviewing its position and instruction to the local agency’s designated representatives. In other words “The body may not negotiate directly with an affected employee in closed session.”
2. The board’s lack of transparency, discussing a “real estate” matter with a consultant who wasn’t supposed to be in a “real estate meeting” ended up leaving the district wide open to criticism when two candidates for the board talked with the consultant at another affair, and then confronted the manager and board with their interpretation of what the consultant was saying about a proposed project. The law states “a legislative body of a local agency may hold a closed session with its NEGOTIATOR prior to the purchase, sale, exchange, or lease of real property by or for the local agency to grant authority to is negotiator regarding the price terms of payment for purchase, sale, exchange, or lease.” One of the conditions is that negotiations must be underway. Also, regarding their allowing the consultant into the closed session, according to 46 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen 34 (1965:) “Closed sessions cannot be qualified by the selective invitation of certain persons into the discussion while excluding the general public.”
3. The lack of transparency in handling the board’s options in filling the vacancy, and the board chair’s explanation that the board didn’t want to give one candidate a perceived advantage when they had so many candidates was also controversial, leaving the board open to charges that they didn’t want to appoint the one and only candidate that took the time to apply for the vacancy because they didn’t like her. The Brown Act specifically prohibits serial meetings. “any use of direct communication, personal intermediaries or technological devices that is employed by a majority of the members of the legislative body to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken on an item by the members of the legislative body is prohibited.
4. Either they had a serial meeting or Jensen took it upon herself to speak for the entire board as “we” and the other two board members present didn’t have any interest in the proceedings. Not nice either way.
The Ralph M. Brown Act is law. It is there for a purpose. It is there because individual managers and boards took advantage of situations and did things in private that were not in the best interests of the people they were sworn to help. The law may hamper expediency, but it also hampers individuals in public positions who want to do what they want to do without anyone knowing about it. That type of behavior is criminal.
Members of boards who don’t want to do the public’s business in public have no business being on the board.
Everyone makes mistakes and nearly every board in the Intermountain Area has screwed up at one time or another, but the only board that consistently violates the Brown Act cannot claim that they have any intention of being open and transparent or that they are concerned enough to take the law seriously. In that case, those board members need to be replaced with ones who will be concerned, will take the law seriously, and will take the time to learn the law and look an item up when it doesn’t sound transparent. They need to remember that the Brown Act was written to assure the public’s right to know and the authors weren’t particularly concerned about its convenience to the governmental agencies covered by it.

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