Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Desert Dispatch on Barstow's Brown Act Violations

Desert Dispatch on Barstow's Brown Act Violations

Jason Smith, staff writer for the Desert Dispatch covered the September 17 Regular Meeting of the Barstow City Council Meeting. The night was highly focused on Indian gaming due in part because of the timing on the Barwest Compacts dying their last and final death at midnight that same night.

Item # 31 on the Agenda was a lame attempt by four members of the Council to "cure" and clean up their Brown Act Violation from meeting with Cynthia Bryant, Legislative Analysis Assistant for Governor Schwarzenegger. The Council got in a heated debate before I spoke on the subject.

During my comments I brought up the immense Conflict of Interest that they all have and that combined with the Brown Act Violations caused me to file a Complaint with the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit earlier that same day.
At the end of the meeting, Jason was asking me about the complaint and I gave him a copy of the Complaint I had filed. On the next day, Tuesday, Jason wrote the following article which was scheduled to run in Wednesday's paper.

September 18, 2007 - 5:21PM

Council accused of violating Brown Act over casino meeting Citizen files legal complaint; council reveals details of gathering

By JASON SMITH, staff writer BARSTOW — At its Monday meeting, the City Council disclosed that members held a closed-door meeting earlier this month about the Big Lagoon/Los Coyotes casino compacts, leading some to believe that the council violated California’s open meeting law.

While attending the League of California Cities Conference on Sept. 6., four council members met with Cynthia Bryant, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, who handles Indian gaming issues, to discuss the issues holding back the Barstow casino compacts. City Manager Hector Rodriguez and the city’s Economic Development Manager Ron Rector also attended the meeting. No agenda was posted prior to the meeting as is normally done when more than two council members are present.

Barstow resident and frequent critic of the council, Larry Halstead, announced at the Monday’s council meeting that he had filed a complaint with the Public Integrity Unit of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office. He accused council members of “corruption” and was upset at what he called city lobbying for a private developer.

“We paid you guys to lobby on behalf of your special interests, that’s what this was,” Halstead said.

The Brown Act, the section of state law which governs how government agencies hold public meetings, states that no more than two council members can gather together outside of a scheduled meeting. Three or more council members at the same meeting would constitute a voting majority and is not allowed under the law except when the event is previously placed on a public agenda or under special circumstances.

Council member Joe Gomez, the only member not to attend the conference, said he was disappointed that the council decided to meet as a group.

Gomez said he chose not to attend the conference because he had attended similar events in the past and said he felt the event was “a waste of taxpayer money.” He accused the Mayor Lawrence Dale of leading the council into violating the Brown Act.

“You clearly led this council, which consists of several new members, to violate the Brown act. … You met without posting a meeting. You met behind closed doors and this clearly violates the Brown Act,” he said.

Council member Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre defended the council’s actions saying that the meeting was not pre-planned and was the result of a last-minute scheduling change

“We had 20 minutes to drop everything to see her,” Hackbarth-McIntyre said.

She said that due to the complexity of the issue and differences of opinions among council members, she felt it was important that all members had the same information.

“There was no vote. We just received information. It was very important for all of us to hear what was discussed by Ms. Bryant,” she said.

Hackbarth-McIntyre said that council members were aware they would have to disclose what was discussed.

“We’re here tonight to let everyone else know what was said and done to cure what went on in that meeting,” she said.

City Attorney Yvette Abich said at Monday’s council meeting that the Sacramento meeting should have been handled differently.

“Should an agenda have been posted? Yes. But it wasn’t. But the Brown Act has a mechanism to cure situations like this,” she said.

She pointed out that the Brown Act has a provision that allows for closed door meetings to be disclosed after the fact, “curing” the violation.

Frank Vanella, Deputy District Attorney with the Public Integrity Unit acknowledged that Larry Halstead’s written complaint of the council’s actions had been received and said his office will review the allegations to determine if further investigation is needed.

He said that assuming the violation was not intentional than a warning would be the most likely penalty that council members would receive. He said that though his office did not keep statistics over Brown Act complaints for individual cities, violations were a common occurrence mostly done by officials unfamiliar with the law.

“There’s a history of Brown Act complaints in almost every city and every board,” he said.

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