Council pledges to better comply with Brown Act
by James Leonard | Patterson Irrigator
Nov 11, 2009 | 1987 views | 3 3 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Patterson City Council has agreed to modify its meeting procedures after being challenged on apparent Brown Act violations, some of which stemmed from this Oct. 26 special meeting. Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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The Patterson City Council acknowledged this week that it has committed oversights under California’s open-meeting rules and pledged to comply more fully with the law.

The changes came at the request of Californians Aware, an open-government watchdog group. After learning of potential Brown Act violations by the council from a Nov. 5 Irrigator editorial, Californians Aware sent the council a letter outlining those and other violations and demanding four specific changes.

The council acknowledged and agreed to all four:

• Post special meeting notices that invite people to comment on agenda items before or during the council’s consideration of those items at that special meeting.

• Announce the “existing facts and circumstances” of anticipated litigation before closed-session discussion, as required by the Brown Act.

• Announce each council member’s vote when reporting action taken in closed session.

• Post regular meeting agendas that allow for public comment on closed-session items before closed sessions.

“These omissions were not intentional, but simply an oversight or a misunderstanding of the correct procedure to follow,” the city said in a statement Monday, Nov. 9. “These changes have been implemented and will take effect immediately.”

Controversial meeting

The controversy began with an Oct. 26 special meeting that included a closed-session evaluation of City Manager Cleve Morris. It had been reported by multiple media outlets that Morris’ job might have been in jeopardy.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in support of Morris, and several wanted to speak before the council went into closed session. Instead, the council allowed them to speak only after the 2½-hour closed session and an announcement that no action had been taken against Morris.

Also at that meeting, the council voted to reimburse developer John Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees he incurred while appealing city staff’s approval of the Del Puerto Health Center’s move to Keystone Pacific Business Park — a move that was later not allowed by the City Council. When the vote was announced, the council did not reveal the vote of each council member. At the Nov. 3 regular meeting, the council voted to add that information to the minutes from the special meeting.

City Attorney George Logan argued last week that because “consideration” of the Morris item was still ongoing — no action was taken during the closed session, but Morris received direction on things to improve — the comments allowed after the session would keep the city in compliance with the law.

Logan later recommended that the city adopt all of Californians Aware’s demands — which included allowing comment before closed-session items at all meetings. However, he emphasized that, at times, the Brown Act allows for some secrecy.

“We agree with each of the four items (in the demand letter),” Logan wrote in an e-mailed response. “But we will reserve the right to protect the city’s interests where necessary and where permitted by law.”

Other violations found

In researching violations after the Oct. 26 meeting, Californians Aware Director Richard P. McKee found that in the first 10 months of 2009, the council had eight special meetings that included only closed-session items. None of those meeting agendas allowed for public comment.

McKee also found that the council consistently conducted closed sessions during regular meetings without allowing comments beforehand.

Mayor Becky Campo said the council didn’t do anything particularly different during the Oct. 26 meeting, but the unusual attention the meeting elicited drew attention to the violations. She said she takes responsibility for the oversights and suggested that it might be beneficial for the council to brush up regularly on the Brown Act.

“We are going to have issues like this in the future — maybe during my last year in service or for future councils,” Campo said. “Let this be a learning experience. We should learn from it.”

Logan, near the end of a somewhat contentious e-mail exchange with McKee, sounded an optimistic tone.

“Your organization provides an important public service in securing compliance with the Brown Act,” Logan wrote to McKee. “And I assure you, the city respects the substance and purpose of the act and … will err on the side of compliance.”

McKee said that when such violations are spotted, his group uses a city’s reaction to the challenges to determine whether they were intentional. He said Logan’s reaction, along with the city’s promise to make the requested changes, leads him to believe the breaches were not.

“It is gratifying to find a city attorney so willing to share his perspectives on open-government issues,” McKee said. “It is even more pleasing to find one willing to make changes to better protect the public’s right to be informed and involved in its city government.”

• Contact James Leonard at 892-6187 or james@pattersonirrigator.com.
Comments
(3)
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brewer7
|
November 17, 2009
Taking a look at Becky's comment:

“We are going to have issues like this in the future — maybe during my last year in service or for future councils,” Campo said. “Let this be a learning experience. We should learn from it.”

That is sort of like her saying that they will be doing it again. What she and the others should be saying is that it won't happen again, or at least that they will do everything in their power to make sure it doesn't happen again. No, they don't say that. All they say is that it might happen again.

I am also curious about the ending of the article, the comments attributed to McKee. If the email exchange was "somewhat contentious", I find it hard to believe that McKee would really say “It is even more pleasing to find one willing to make changes to better protect the public’s right to be informed and involved in its city government.” I find that extremely hard to believe.

Just some random thoughts from a concerned citizen.
docholliday
|
November 17, 2009
pledges to comply? what in the world? how do you get to this point and not know that you are to follow the brown act? if you do not know the protocol, you need to step down and let someone who does know serve the citizens of this community. pledge, it better get cleaned up, NOW!
P'd_off
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November 13, 2009
What a complete joke. Campo and Smith have thumbed their noses as this town for far too long. They BOTH knew they weren’t complying with the Brown act, as well as many others, and haven’t for some time. Especially since they both have personally visited this site, or had one of their cough family members do it for them. There is ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY in this town. Their boss, John Ramos, is pulling the strings. Numerous conflicts of interest, lining their bosses pockets, personal vendettas against a running mate and someone whom they believed aligned with him, getting employees from the mayors business ushered into local politics, Smith using a fake alias and pumping up Wal-Mart and showing her praise for it before a vote from the council on the matter, the M Street fiasco and how they both still view it, a stench along Sperry and American Eagle that has been there for years, etc etc etc. I could go on, but hey, the mayor got us a Taco Bell! She also got us another drug store! and another! Hell, when Wal-Mart rolls in we’ll have over 6 different pharmacies in town! WOO HOO!

It is criminal as well with how the mayor and city council have not worked in unison with the Sherriff’s department. They’ve sat back and put the load on them. Once the housing market crashed, most of the good people in this town left and the TRASH moved in. Patterson is now Oakland and the children roam the streets and think they own it! Don’t say anything to them though, or you’ll have their TRASH parents calling PO PO on you. Some of the people moved here to get away from that crap but its true what they say, you can take people out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of them. That gated community should be locked to keep them all in. We haven’t even touched on all the gang activity here.

When I moved here, this town had promise, now its a place I don’t want my children being raised.



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