Opinion

Tuesday, Jul 08 2014 01:22 PM

Now and Then: Yes, I'm tired of it, too

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Honest, folks, if you're tired of reading my rantings about open government, the Brown Act and public access to information having to do with our government, I can assure you that I'm even more tired of writing about it.

If those who we entrust to run our governments -- our elected and appointed council members, trustees and directors and those who work for them -- would pay better attention to the people's right to know and both the letter and spirit of the laws, I could spend my time writing about something else.

To me, it's a no-brainer. The Brown Act and the various interpretations of this law by courts and the California Attorney General are very clear: Meetings of public bodies must be "open and public," actions may not be secret, and action taken in violation of open meetings laws may be voided.

Yes, there are some "exemptions;" that is, situations that allow closed sessions. These include personnel, litigation and instructing negotiators in property transactions.

In a letter to the editor published June 25, Ed Kennedy, president of the Board of Directors of Golden Hills Community Services District, said "there are some situations that require discretion" and said that in "certain business transactions," like the recent purchase of the derelict golf course, "public discussion could jeopardize the district's mission in serving the community."

I have no disagreement with the fact that the board had a right to direct its property negotiator in closed session. Or that the closed sessions were not properly noticed.

My concern, which remains, is that there was no public discussion of the fact that the district intended to purchase the property before the transaction was announced.

On June 24, Ernest A. Conant of the Law Offices of Young Wooldridge, LLP, who is general counsel for Golden Hills CSD, wrote a three-page letter to me stating that in recent editorials I "implied" that the district may have failed to hold meetings as required by the Brown Act regarding its purchase of certain properties that made up the former golf course.

He then outlined the meetings held and asked that I redact my previously published opinion.

For the record, I've never challenged that meetings weren't held. My concern was that all board discussion relative to the purchase was held in closed session. After reading the Brown Act case of Shapiro vs the San Diego City Council, I more strongly believe that the board exceeded the allowance of the property negotiation exemption.

Someone put the closed session item on the agenda. Unless we are to believe that the board then directed its negotiators without any discussion of what might be done without the property, its value to the district, concerns about environmental issues such as Tom Sawyer Lake, or whether the expenditure from district reserves was appropriate, then I believe there was a Brown Act violation.

And if the board did vote to direct its negotiator on price and terms without any discussion of those other matters, then I think a reasonable person might wonder why.

Regarding minutes, according to the letter from Attorney Conant, the district does keep minutes of all its board meetings. Minutes of the May 23 special board meeting including mention of Tom Sawyer Lake, Golden Hills Country Club and the meter pull process under "public input" are now posted on the district's website.

However, that was not the case on June 3 when the district's spokesperson, Tom Llewellyn of the public relations firm Passantino and Anderson, responded to my email as follows: "I spoke with the GHCSD clerk, Greg Ferrari, about minutes and agendas. It does not appear we have minutes we can share from the previous meetings. One part of that is because these meetings are discussion only (there are NO action items) minutes are not always kept."

So no, Mr. Conant, representing the Golden Hills Community Services District, I will not run a redaction of my previously expressed opinion concerning failure of the district to honor the letter and spirit of the Brown Act in the matter of the purchase of the former country club property.

 

CLAUDIA ELLIOTT is editor of the Tehachapi News. Send email to: celliott@tehachapinews.com or call 823-6360.

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