The accompanying article posted here reports on the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commission’s discussion of a meeting with Riverside County Fire Department officials at the Emergency Command Center in Perris on Tuesday, March 18.
Three commissioners — Jerry Buchanan, president, Rhonda Andrewson, secretary, and Nancy Layton, treasurer — all officers; and the three citizen members — Chris Davis, Calvin Gogerty (alternate) and Susan Weisbart — of the district’s Finance Committee, along with Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, also a committee member, attended the meeting to discuss renegotiating the dispatch contract with RCFD. All but Davis publicly shared their impressions of the March 18 session during the commission’s April 8 meeting, thus confirming their attendance at a meeting that was neither noticed nor identified on any agenda for commission or committee meetings.
In the opinion of California Newspaper Publishers Association General Counsel Jim Ewert, all IFPD participants on March 18 committed violations of California’s open government law — the Brown Act — because the three commissioners constitute a quorum of the district’s governing body. Secondly, four members, Layton and three citizens, compose a majority of the district’s Finance Committee, which by law is a standing committee. And each of these representatives of the district was at the meeting to discuss district business — dispatch services.
There are exceptions to the definition of a meeting in section 54952.2(c), such as attendance at a conference open to the public, or at another open and publicized meeting of another local agency. Even social or ceremonial occasions are allowed, provided the members do not discuss among themselves issues under the district’s purview.
But in regards to the March 18 event, “These are definitely Brown Act violations,” opined Peter Scheer, a lawyer and executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.
The violations include failure to post the meetings of a quorum of the commission and of a quorum of its Finance Committee. And finally, a quorum of the Finance Committee traveled in one vehicle together, which constitutes a meeting.
Buchanan’s reaction was that he had asked his commission colleagues not to speak in order to avoid “discussing” the issue, though several members admitted to speaking at the Perris meeting. The public was prevented from any hearings, deliberations, discussions or actions of the two public bodies, thus violating the principles of open government, said Ewert.
Also, the discussion at the commission’s April 8 meeting arose during the chief’s regular report, when he talks about his activities during the past month, but a discussion of the Perris meetings was not posted on the agenda. So any constituent interested in the status of the dispatch contract would not have known this discussion was to occur at the April 8 meeting.