No, it is not okay for commissions, committees or task forces to meet a majority of their members without Staff present to take notes, or without Staff notice to the public

29 Dec

I got off the track from the Sustainability Task Force – I was having a conversation with Mark Stemen about whether or not Staff needed to be present at committee meetings, who was allowed to notice the public, who was allowed to take minutes, etc.

I can appreciate both sides of this argument, cause I rode this merry-go-round over the old Redevelopment Agency Citizens Oversight Committee. Sure, I wanted some citizen’s oversight too, a group who was allowed to sit in on the meetings and report back to the general public, get the word out what was going on with the RDA credit card. What we got was a group of people who thought they should be allowed to give recommendations to council, but didn’t have to notice their meetings, could have running e-mail chat discussions involving a majority of their members, with no record available to the public. I wanted a staffer assigned to their group, but a “conservative” – led council under Mayor Dan Herbert declared they couldn’t afford a staffer, and, acknowledging the illegal nature of such a group, disbanded the committee. 

Of course that was a bunch of crap – that same council signed the MOU that linked salaries to “revenue increases but not decreases…”, raising salaries by 14, 19, 22 percent year after year, effectively emptying our city’s coffers and sending us into perpetual debt. Later, surviving members of that council signed the contracts that have us paying 81 – 100 percent of staff benefits and pensions. 

So now here we are – we really CAN’T afford staff to sit in these meetings. It’s really getting ridiculous. In past, the clerk’s staff kept the minutes for these meetings. The clerk’s salary is about $135,000/year, but her staffers make less than half of that.  Now that Presson’s staff has been cut down to one surviving member, Brian Nakamura is sending management staff to take notes at these meetings.  Nakamura himself, at $212,000/year, was taking notes at the Economic Development Committee meetings. He’s assigned Planning Director Mark Wolf to take notes at the Sustainability Task Force meetings. I’m not sure, but I’ll guess that Wolfe’s salary is in excess of $150,000 a year. I’m not complaining, Wolfe is a competent person – but we’re talking about a secretary’s job here, not a person who’s responsible for coordinating a bunch of citywide projects. Figure the difference yourself, more than twice the salary. 

The reasoning behind assigning Wolfe was that the STF has been placed under the Planning Department.  That makes sense, because the original notion behind the STF was to make city services and development more efficient – gee, the way things turn around, huh?

I have to give Stemen credit for trying to save the city some money. And I’m not accusing him of being dishonest or incompetent. He told me in an earlier post, “I have no argument with you over the cost of staffing or the Brown Act…If I have a beef about the Brown Act is is with the City. They are interpreting the Act in a way that says only they can notice the public, and more importantly, only they can take minutes, which is not true. ”  I disagree – that’s what Staff is for, and if they’re not doing the job correctly, they need to be replaced with qualified staffers, not usurped in a hostile takeover. 

He did relate a story about the park commission that bothers me, and reminds me of my experience with the RDA COC. “Last night at the BPPC meeting, Dan E told the members of the tree committee they could not meet without him or staff, and they didn’t have time right now, even though the committee has not met in months. Mark H asked directly if a member of the committee could take minutes, and he [Efseaff] had to admit they could, but he would prefer they not. So they won’t, and thus the key documents the rest of the City staff needs from the BPPC sit on a shelf in draft form.”

I said I’d check with Staff (ha ha) and find out. I know, that’s pretty circular, but Staff are the people we hire to keep the Book of Rules, so that’s who we consult. 

I looked at the description for the job of city clerk available at the Human Resources link on the city website:

Typical Duties: 

Serve as Clerk to the City Council; plan and direct the publication, filing, indexing, and safekeeping of all 
proceedings of the Council; record and publish all ordinances; attest and certify various City documents; 
serve as custodian of the City Seal; plan and direct municipal elections consolidated with County 
elections; serve as a filing officer for required disclosure under the Political Reform Act; serve as filing 
officer for claims and legal actions against the City; plan and direct the maintenance and safekeeping of 
all historical and official municipal records and documents on a City-wide basis; respond to a variety of 
inquiries and requests for information regarding past City Council actions and documents; direct the 
preparation, organization, printing and distribution of the agenda for City Council meetings; supervise and 
participate in the keeping of proceedings, ordinances, resolutions, and minute ordersdevelop and 
implement systems, policies and procedures; administer the provisions of various State laws, including 
the California Elections Code, Political Reform Act of 1974, Brown Act, Public Records Act and other 
applicable laws; prepare and administer the Council and City Clerk’s Office budgets; administer Oaths of 
Office to elected and appointed officials, department heads and City employees; countersign bonds and 
other evidences of indebtedness issued by the City; attend and keep a permanent journal of proceedings at 
all meetings of the City Council; coordinate City Clerk activities and work with other City departments 
and with outside agencies; select, supervise, train and evaluate assigned staff; administer the overall 
workload of the City Clerk’s Office, including review and evaluation of work products, methods and 
procedures; plan and organize special City events; supervise use of Council Chamber Building facilities; 
secure bids for official advertising in newspapers; supervise procedures for appointments to Boards, 
Commissions and Committees; perform related assignments as necessary.

I bold-faced those items I found related to this issue, but there it all is.  I’m bothered that it doesn’t say, “attend or assign staffer to attend and keep a permanent journal of proceedings at all board and commission meetings…”. But, I do see, the city clerk is the authority on the rules for record keeping, and that she is supposed to “develop and implement systems, policies and procedures,” by which to keep those records.  She’s also supposed to be the city’s authority on the Brown Act. I’ve read the Brown Act, and I really liked the presentation city clerk Debbie Presson gave at the STF meeting, so she’s the one I asked. 

Hi,

 

 I’ve been having a conversation with some folks, including Mark Stemen, chair of the Sustainability Task Force, regarding the taking of minutes at committee meetings.

 

Mr. Stemen and some others believe that staff is not required at these meetings, that it is okay for a committee member to be responsible for taking minutes, as well as getting the public notice out in time. That does not make sense given your excellent presentation on the Brown Act Debbie.  I was under the impression that having these meetings without staff present and without staff notice of the pubic is a violation of the Brown Act, please correct me if I’m wrong. 

 

I’d appreciate it if somebody could clarify here. Apparently, Dan Efseaf told park commissioners that they could have meetings without staff, and take their own reports, but he’d rather they didn’t?  – thanks, Juanita Sumner 

She responded:

You are absolutely right. If there is a task force or commission that has been created and members appointed by the Council….staff needs to be there to provide support and information during the meetings and to ensure that not only does the agenda noticing meet all requirements but the minutes as well.  The legislative history is critical to the process. I will pass that reminder on to staff as well. 

Thank you for asking the question. 

I felt stupid for putting that off as long as I had, but it was Christmas and I don’t like to be a flea on Staff.  Not every minute, anyway. But it was as easy as asking. I’m glad I did too!  No, it is NOT okay for any city-appointed commissions, committees or task forces (and there are legal definitions for each of these) to have meetings of a majority (more than half their members) without a staffer present, or without staff notice to the public. 

I think it’s a good idea. I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but stuff gets kind of loose and fast when the public gets left out of the equation.  But, I don’t like the way Brian Nakamura seems to be using the Brown Act as an excuse not to have the meetings. He’s obviously having meetings about public policy behind closed doors – where has the Farmer’s Market conversation been going on? That is what he wants – to do business without the onerous burden of public input.  I’m guessing he’s entertaining offers for the sale of Bidwell Ranch.

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26 Responses to “No, it is not okay for commissions, committees or task forces to meet a majority of their members without Staff present to take notes, or without Staff notice to the public”

  1. Michael Jones December 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Hi Juanita and Dr. Mark,

    Some thoughts on this issue:
    ——————————————————————————————————-
    The Brown Act requires meetings be noticed (a piece of paper posted outside the Council Chambers); the Brown Act states that the legislative body may post the agenda OR its designee:

    Brown Act/54954.2. (a) (1) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words. The agenda shall specify the time and location of the regular meeting and shall be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public and on the local agency’s Internet Web site, if the local agency has one. If requested, the agenda shall be made available in appropriate alternative formats to persons with a disability, as required by Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132), and the federal rules and regulations adopted in implementation thereof. The agenda shall include information regarding how, to whom, and when a request for disability-related modification or accommodation, including auxiliary aids or services, may be made by a person with a disability who requires a modification or accommodation in order to participate in the public meeting. – See more at: http://firstamendmentcoalition.org/open-meetings-3/text-of-the-ralph-m-brown-act-gov-code-sec-54950-54963-updated-2012/#sthash.Jd6aSG32.dpuf
    ——————————————————————————————–
    The Brown Act does not require minutes; the City may establish requirements for minutes:

    http://firstamendmentcoalition.org/2013/06/aa-does-the-brown-act-require-minutes-from-city-council-meetings/
    ———————————————————————————————
    The City Charter requires a City Clerk who keeps minutes of Council meetings:

    City Charter/Section 607. Rules of procedure.
    The council shall determine its own rules and order of business, subject, but not
    limited to, the following provisions:
    A. There shall be a Journal of Proceedings of all council meetings which shall be open
    to the public, except as otherwise provided by law.
    B. The ayes and noes shall be taken upon the passage of all ordinances and resolutions
    and entered upon the Journal of Proceedings of the council. Upon the request of any
    member, the ayes and noes shall be taken and recorded on any vote.
    C. A majority of the council shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business,
    but a less number may adjourn from time to time and postpone the consideration of
    pending business.
    D. The council shall appoint……
    ———
    City Charter/Section 905. Powers and duties of city clerk.
    The city clerk shall:
    A. Attend meetings of the council and be responsible for the recording and maintaining
    of a full and true record of all proceedings of the council in books that shall bear
    appropriate title and be devoted to such purpose; call the roll of the council and
    record the council members present, absent or excused.
    B. Maintain books in which shall be recorded respectively all duly adopted ordinances
    and resolutions, and, as to an ordinance requiring publication, an affidavit of
    publication or posting shall be affixed thereto.
    C. Maintain books in which a record shall be made of all written contracts and official
    bonds.
    D. Keep all aforementioned books properly indexed.
    E. Be the custodian of the seal of the city.
    F. Administer oaths or affirmations, taking affidavits and depositions pertaining to the
    affairs and business of the city and certify copies of the official records.
    G. Have charge of all elections to be conducted by the city, provided, that the city may
    contract with the County of Butte or any public officer authorized to conduct
    elections for the performance of all duties of conducting such elections.
    H. Perform such other duties consistent with this Charter as may be required by the
    council or by law.
    (Res. No. 84 74-75 §3(a), Passed
    ——————————————————
    The Council establishes rules for committees by resolution:

    Municipal Code2.08.020 Establishment of council rules of procedure, committees, and fees.
    Subject to the provisions of the City Charter, the council may determine, as it may deem
    necessary, the following by resolution:
    A. Its own rules;
    B. Its own order of business;
    C. Its own standing and other committees;
    D. Fees for the rendering of services by itself and its various commissions, departments, and
    offices and for the use of its property and in doing so it may establish and publish a schedule
    thereof; and

    ———————————————————-
    Assertions: The City Clerk is required to attend and keep minutes for City Council meetings. All Council, Commission, and committee meetings must have an agenda posted in front of the Council Chambers 72 hours in advance; The BODY (eg the chair) or their designee can post the agenda. There is no requirement that the City Clerk keep the minutes for Commissions or committees (or Task Forces). [at least not in the Brown Act nor the Chico City Charter or Municipal Code]

    Comment: the City Clerk did not have City Council minutes available to the public for months, which is a clear violation of the Charter and Muni. Code. The City Attorney refused to enforce the Charter on this issue.

    Editorial comment: staff dominates the elected and appointed officials by asserting powers not vested in them, and the City Attorney has been remiss in not enforcing the rules as they apply to staff. Currently they are removing all powers from some committees by telling them they can’t schedule their own meetings.

    Conclusion: Dr Mark and Mark Herrera should test this by posting agendas for the Sustainability Task Force and BPPC Tree Committee in front of Council Chambers at least 72 hrs in advance. Use 8.5×11 paper and bring a hole punch. And ask the Clerk to post them on the City website as well. If the Clerk removes the posted agenda within the 72 hrs prior, then the meetings can’t happen she will claim. But I recall a Finance Committee meeting a while back for which the agenda posted in front of Council Chambers had been “stolen” and Debbie Presson and Tom Lando said the meeting could proceed anyway.

    • Juanita Sumner December 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      First of all, the bulletin board is not a practical form of public notice. The website must be used, and only staff should be privy to the website.

      Second, thanks for diving into the charter. Yes, I realize the clerk has been remiss. Yes, I realize Staff breaks the rules all the time, we have to be watching them constantly. But I’m sorry, I’m not willing to accept a takeover by a group of self-appointed anarchists.

      If these people want to meet outside the public’s ears and eyes, they need to form their own private citizen’s action committees and relinquish their influence with the council.

      I’m all for dumping the STF and the park commission. They’re just spoils positions that allow small groups with private agendas too much influence with council. Frankly, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Mark Stemen, president of BEC, a special interest group, to be the head of a city commission, but there’s nothing against that in the rules. Park Commissioner Herrera also is a charter member of BEC, according to their website. Former Park Commissioner Jane Turney was a board member with Fiends of the Park, that was also inappropriate. Get rid of these commissions, make them form their own clubs on their own dime and come down to council meetings to air their beefs along with the rest of us.

  2. Mark December 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Juanita, to be clear, I am talking about sub-committee meetings, not full seven member meetings. Sub-committees can have 2-3 members. As you heard from the Clerk, three people can meet in secret if they want. They just can’t talk to a fourth. So, sub-committees can meet without staff, take their own minutes, and make a presentation to the full committee/task force. My suggestion will be to post the agendas for sub-committees and notice them just like regular committee meetings. A member of the sub-committee will take notes and submit them to staff for distribution with the regular agenda.

    • Juanita Sumner December 29, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      Meet in secret? There’s the rub Mark – why the hell do you people need to meet in fucking secret?!

      • Mark December 29, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        It is legal to meet in secret. I propose public meetings. Please don’t twist my words for dramatic effect.

      • Juanita Sumner December 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

        Sorry to get mad at the suggestion of public commissions having secret meetings. I still don’t understand how that’s legal given the presentation we got from Debbie Presson.

        let me respond to the rest of your comment – you never used that key word before – “sub”. That’s a whole nother conversation Mark, thanks for that clarification all the sudden. Yeah, that’s a bummer – it’s legal for these committees to form “sub-committees,” “ad-hoc” committees that don’t have to conform to the Brown Act. That’s why it’s important to require Staff to notice citizens who ask to be noticed via e-mail of the regular meetings. Anybody who follows the regular meetings will find these sub-committees in the agendas and can ask to be notified via e-mail of those ad-hoc meetings, which are open to any members of the public who want to attend. Yeah, it’s hard keeping up with all this stuff – that’s why I ask for and get the e-mail notices. We need Staff to do that.

        Face it, these public commissions cost a lot of Staff money, period.

  3. Mark December 29, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    The tree committee has three members of the BPPC on it, so they could meet on their own as well, and then bring their recommendations to the full BPPC at the regular monthly meeting.

    • Juanita Sumner December 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      What’s legal and what’s ethical are two different things.

  4. Mark December 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Juanita, it is clear to many that important work in not being completed because of staff shortages. Sub-committees are a way for community members to help complete the work on the climate action plan, the urban forest management plan, and the city bike plan. I agree that the work needs to be done in public view, but I disagree that we need a paid “secretary” (your word) to record the minutes.

    • Juanita Sumner December 30, 2013 at 6:54 am #

      I’m sorry, we’re in disagreement over what work needs to be done. I never agreed on the Climate Action Plan, that was foisted on us by a small group of self-interested individuals who saw an opportunity to get their fingers in the till. Jon Stallman took $70,000 in personal gain out of the STF, and Scott McNall took another $10,000 – money given to the city of Chico out of our PG&E rate payments, as part of RECO. The ratepayers were never told a word about this, I only know about it because I’ve followed the STF, despite their best efforts to ditch me around every turn. We never got any figures on RECO, now many households were served, or any statistic regarding their subsequent bills. All those people got were real time meters that tell PG&E exactly what they are doing 24 hours a day. That whole program was shoved on us by the Sustainability Task Force.

      Following those committee meetings was onerous for me, because they were last-minute and seemed constant. I had to put aside my personal life, and run to these meetings almost weekly, but it was an eye-opener. At one tiny meeting in a back room usually not used for meetings, a PG&E rep told Ann Schwab and Linda Herman that she could get them small grants of about $3,000 for little parties to award their “Sustainable Business Partners”. Yeah, an awards party with food and drinks and plaques – all paid by the ratepayers! That is what I would call, “partying on my dime.”

      I don’t want some well meaning but untrained volunteer taking notes at these meetings. We pay staff good money because they’ve received hours of training on the laws, you’ve received about an hour – I’ll quote Debbie – “Awesome Mark!” You and I both watched the same presentation, and came away with different interpretations. I’d say, the Brown Act is too vague, and the city of Chico needs to add some concrete rules about meetings, public notice, and record taking to the charter.

      By the way, yes, Debbie is the city’s head secretary. Secretary – from Google – a person employed by an individual or in an office to assist with correspondence, keep records, make appointments, and carry out similar tasks. Synonyms – assistant, executive assistant, clerical assistant, administrator…etc. You have a problem with the word “secretary” because of the way YOU use it, MAN, don’t throw that on me.

      • Mary December 30, 2013 at 11:20 am #

        I agree with Juanita. Forming ad hoc subcommittees of less than a quorum is an end run around the Brown Act. Legal and ethical are two separate issues.

      • Juanita Sumner December 31, 2013 at 2:53 am #

        Thanks Mary – end run around the Brown Act – I couldn’t have put it better.

      • Mark December 31, 2013 at 8:38 am #

        I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this one, and I promise to think about how I use my words.
        Sub-committees and staffing will a topic of discussion at the next STF meeting and I will be sure to give you (and other members of the public) time to express and share your views.

      • Juanita Sumner December 31, 2013 at 11:37 am #

        Thanks Mark.

        How will I be noticed in future? Should I check-in with the clerk’s office, or do you already have a list?

  5. Mark December 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    All committee meetings will be noticed by staff. The STF will meet on the second Thursday at 5:30. I will be sure you are provided a copy of the agenda when it is completed.

    • Juanita Sumner January 1, 2014 at 7:37 am #

      Happy New Year Mark, it is so nice to know I can depend on something.

  6. Mark January 5, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    FYI, I was informed by staff that Debbie Presson has decided that the STF Ad-Hoc Committees are not allowed to notice their meetings or take minutes of their discussions or recommendations.
    I do not agree with her interpretation/decision. As the League of Women Voters pamphlet stares, “The Brown Act is a floor, not a ceiling.”

  7. Juanita January 5, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    The Chico Women’s League of Voters is totally subjective. When they ran the debate over Measure A, they allowed the opponents to make a lot of crap about Tom Daughterman’s money – a guy who lives right here in town, who legally funded a legal campaign. But, when I wanted to ask who was funding the opponents, Linda Furr would not allow my question. They just took it and threw it out.

    A month or two after the election was over, we saw the contribution reports – with their last-minute contribution, purposely timed to avoid detection, the SEIU was the biggest single contributor to the Measure A opponents.

    So, excuse me if I have very little regard for the OPINION of the WLV. Debbie Presson is a trained professional, an “officer” of the city. And, she’s a lot easier to keep track of than this committee you’ve put together.

    I’m sorry, if you’re so determined to circumvent the public notice and records laws, you need to take this thing to somebody’s garage and give up the inappropriate influence over council. Why don’t you just do this through BEC?

    • Mark January 5, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      I was quoting from the LWV pamphlet on the Brown Act. Don’t you believe that elected official should honor the spirit as well as the letter of the act? I know you do from reading your other post so I assume you are just being contrary to whatever I say.

      Furthermore, I am asking that the sub-committees meet in public. You are agreeing with the clerk and saying that they should not. And why would you suggest BEC write the City’s climate action plan? I assume you are just being contrary again.

      • Juanita Sumner January 5, 2014 at 9:35 am #

        Mark, you’ve got to stop putting words in my mouth and then arguing with them. I believe that is known as The Straw Man. How is the clerk saying the meetings won’t be public? What are you talking about Mark? You assume way too much. I have better things to do than play games. In fact, tomorrow I ride Mammoth, eat your heart out. If I never see you again, live long and prosper, but don’t do it on the public dime.

      • Mark January 5, 2014 at 10:58 am #

        Staff will not post meeting agendas for ad-hoc/sub-committee meetings, nor will they distribute minutes. So, I ask you, how is the public to be involved?

        Have fun on Mammoth.

      • Juanita Sumner January 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

        Do you mean, they won’t allow you to have ad-hoc/sub-committee meetings because they are saying it’s too much staff time?

        I will.

      • Mark January 5, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

        The STF can and will have ad-hoc/sub-committee meetings but staff will not notice them for the public. Staff believes the ad-hoc committees fall outside the Brown Act. All topics discussed by the ad-hoc committees will come before the full committee and I can promise you that the public will have ample time for input before STF recommendations are forwarded to the Planning Commission for further discussion and deliberation.
        I would have preferred for the STF sub-committee meetings to be noticed and minutes recorded, but we will move forward with as much transparency as possible in the process.

      • Juanita Sumner January 5, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

        I’ll snoop into that. Have mini-box, will travel.

  8. Mark January 5, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Oops, my bad. I was quoting from the California League of Cities: Open and Public.

    “Transparency is a foundational value for ethical government practices. The Brown
    Act is a floor, not a ceiling, for conduct.”

  9. Juanita Sumner January 11, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Well, Stemen’s right – the city is going to allow the Sustainability Task Force to develop sub or “ad hoc” committees that will be allowed to schedule their own meetings without noticing the public, and with staff oversight. So, here we go again. At least Ann Schwab and Linda Herman agreed to notice me when I asked. I observed stuff at their ad hoc meetings, like a PG&E rep doling out thousands in ratepayer money for catered parties for “sustainable business partners.” Our money.

    Oh well, I can no longer follow these meetings. We need to lobby for this Task Force to be dissolved. Mark Stemen has made it clear that he intends to hold secret meetings, without staff oversight.

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