Two South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board members and administrative staffers have come under fire for alleged violations of open meetings laws that protect public access to information and participation. Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill refused to attend a meeting on Saturday because it violated the law.
During the meeting, a handful of critics voiced complaints about the sanitation district’s lack of transparency and its apparent ongoing disregard for the Ralph M. Brown Act, a stringent California open-meetings law that requires legislative bodies to conduct their business in public view in the boundaries of their government body.
The charges claim, among other things, that the sanitation district held a closed session meeting on Saturday at the Courtyard Marriott in San Luis Obispo, outside the boundaries of the district. At the meeting, staffers said they moved the location to utilize Skype during what was dubbed a teleconference meeting.
“I believe it is a violation of the Brown Act to hold it out of the district,” Hill said. “You can certainly use Skype in Grover Beach, Oceano or Arroyo Grande. I am certain it works at hotels in the district.There are many places it could have been held in the district boundaries.”
The Brown Act permits teleconference meetings if a quorum of members are physically in the government bodies jurisdiction and if the agenda is posted at the site. In this case, no members attended the meeting in the district boundaries and an agenda of the meeting was not posted at the Courtyard Marriott.
During public comment, citizens warning board members Linda Austin from Oceano and Barbara Nicolls from Grover Beach that they should cancel the meeting to avoid violating the Brown Act. Several speakers accused sanitation district officials of moving the meeting out of area to avoid public scrutiny.
After public comment, interim Administrator Rick Sweet read an email from district legal counsel Gil Trujillo, that said the out of district boundary location was in compliance with the Brown Act.
After dismissing the concerns of Mayor Hill and others, board members Nicolls and Austin, a consultant and Oceano General Manager Paavo Ogren moved the meeting into closed session to interview applicants to replace the district’s former administrator. Gerhardt Hubner left the district in Aug, 2017.
The Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 because of mounting concerns that government bodies were avoiding scrutiny by meeting secretly. The act, which has been amended and strengthened in the years since, guarantees the public the right to attend and participate in meetings of legislative bodies, to have forewarning of discussion items through posted agendas, and forbids a majority of board members from discussing government issues in private.