Supes approve minutes over Spencer’s objections
June 11, 2013 — Westwood resident Eileen Spencer, representing KanWeHelp, continued her assault against the Lassen County Board of Supervisors’ practice of not posting minutes of their meetings on the county clerk’s website before they come up for approval.
And then she added new criticism of Julie Bustamante, Lassen County Clerk for her role and responsibility as the board’s clerk.
Spencer asked the board to pull approval of the minutes of its May 14 and May 21 meetings from the board’s consent calendar for separate discussion. Board chair Jack Hanson granted her request.
In the end, after the board determined it was not violating the Brown Act by its action, it unanimously approved the minutes.
Spencer said she would bring the matter up every week until the board began posting the minutes on its website prior to the meetings.
District 4 Supervisor Aaron Albaugh asked Lassen County Counsel Rhetta Vander Ploeg if the minutes could be changed if a factual error was discovered after they were approved.
Vander Ploeg said Albaugh was “absolutely correct,” and he moved to approve the minutes. District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman seconded the motion.
“The law requires we have to have our agenda posted 72 hours in advance,” Chapman said. “That’s the only requirement. All the sub parts of the agenda, it’s a courtesy we extend to the public to make it more accommodating, but I don’t think there’s any legal requirement that any items on the agenda have to be posted on the website.”
Chapman said the agendas are posted in a number of locations where the public has access to the information prior to the meeting.
He said if anyone finds a factual error in the minutes at any time, the board can correct them.
“Obviously the Internet gives us a convenient tool, but I think the issue that’s been brought forth is brought forth not for the purposes of supposedly accommodating the public, but I think it’s an opportunity to assault the staff processes, and I think that doesn’t serve the public interest.”
Iona McCain said the board’s minutes were very important in court cases she and her husband were involved in a decade or so ago.
District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick asked Vander Ploeg to read the requirements for approving the board’s minutes into the record.
She said according to government code and case law, the board should know the purpose of the minutes (they’re about votes and actions, not debates and comments); review the minutes for accuracy as soon as possible; make sure the board has a quorum; make a motion to approve the minutes; open the minutes to discussion; and call for the vote.
District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle asked Vander Ploeg if the board was violating anything by approving these minutes.
Vander Ploeg said no, and if there’s a factual error is discovered, it can be corrected, and the minutes can be amended at a later time.
“This is just our approval,” Pyle said. “We submit it to the public and say, ‘This is what we approved, if you have an issue, come back and we can change it. It’s not in concrete.”
“Correct,” Vander Ploeg said.
Someone in the audience asked how the public’s going to get it.
“The public can get it a year from now,” Pyle said. “It’s not in concrete once we approve it.”
“You’re so wrong,” Spencer said.
Blog site’s complaint
According to Spencer’s analysis, in the past three years the county has “gone through” five county administrative officers and the public has elected three new board members, but the one constant has been the county clerk.
Spencer criticized the board for assigning the board’s clerk duties to the county clerk’s office. According to Spencer, that responsibility should have been placed with the county administrative officer.
“Clearly the county clerk has demonstrated year after year she cannot handle the duties of the clerk of the board,” Spencer said. “ I think we need to move (the clerk’s position) under the administration of this board.”
Spencer said she had reviewed a list of the county clerk’s responsibilities and those responsibilities are extensive, not counting her role as the county elections official.
“Some people say you guys are afraid and intimidated by the county clerk because she handles the elections,” Spencer said, “so basically you just let her do what she wants. You can continue to tolerate this negligence, but the people who you represent deserve better.”
According to Spencer, the minutes from May 14 and May 21 were not posted on the county’s website, and therefore the public had no opportunity to review them before they came up for approval.
Spencer’s said she filed a Brown Act violation with the Lassen County District Attorney alleging minutes from 53 of 121 meetings held between Dec.14, 2010 and May 21, 2013 were never posted on the county website. The complaint also alleged the minutes of five meetings were not placed on the consent calendar, the minutes of 14 meeting have not yet been approved and 43 percent of the meeting minutes “did not offer public discussion prior to action by this board.”
According to the complaint, California’s Open Meeting Law “allows an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the board of supervisors on any item on your agenda,” and “the intent of this board (by placing your meeting minutes in the consent calendar without public review) may be to avoid public discussion.”
“That’s a speculation,” Spencer said as she read that portion of the complaint.
According to Spencer, the clerk tells the public to go to its website for information, but much of the public record regarding the board’s actions is not found there.
“This is a huge violation of the intent of the Brown Act,” Spencer read.
“We’re serious about this. You are not,” Spencer said.
Spencer told the board it was beginning to approve old minutes, some as old as 2010.
“This is an important issue,” Spencer said, “to have the official record available and accurate. There are 14 that you still need to approve (but) some of you weren’t here then … ”
In addition, Spencer said it would be hard for the board members who did attend those meetings to remember if they’re accurate.
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