S. E. Williams
Last week, San Bernardino County Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales challenged fellow Board Supervisors over an alleged Brown Act violation.
Gonzales, who did not attend last week’s Board meeting leveled the complaint in response to a presentation made to the supervisors during the meeting that was not listed as part of the published agenda.
San Bernardino County Sheriffs Captain Stephen Dorsey and D e p u t y Executive Officer for the county’s community services group, Leonard Hernandez, gave a presentation focused on security protocols, traffic and noise management at the three-day Nocturnal Wonderland rave over Labor Day weekend. The event was held at the San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore. The unscheduled presentation was followed by a brief discussion between the supervisors and the presenters.
Gonzales, whose district includes the area of Devore was reportedly incensed when she learned of the presentation the following day. Dorsey and Hernandez allegedly made the presentation at the request of Board Chairman James Ramos.
In a letter to the Ramos, the other supervisors and San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux, Gonzales expressed her disappointment over such a discussion being held in her absence regarding an issue in her district—especially since she had advised Ramos in advance that she would be absent from the meeting. She also chided the board for discussing the item during the meeting despite the fact it was not part of the published agenda. Gonzales expressed her belief the action was a direct violation of the Brown Act.
California’s Brown Act established how legislative bodies conduct business more than sixty years ago. The Act makes it abundantly clear that the public has a right to be informed of public meeting dates, times and locations so they can attend and participate in the sessions. The law also has a clear requirement that meeting agendas not only be posted 72 hours in advance of all meetings; but also that the posting include a short description of each item to be discussed during the meeting. It also expressly prohibits the discussion of items not included on the published agenda.
Despite these clearly defined rules, San Bernardino County’s legal department asserted via county spokesperson David Wert, that there was no Brown Act violation. Although no further explanation was provided—since no decision was made on the issue at the meeting and the Nocturnal Wonderland rave issue is already scheduled for further discussion on a future agenda—this may make the alleged Brown Act violation a moot point according to the First Amendment Coalition (FAC).
According to FAC, “A knowing violation of the Brown Act with the intent to deprive the public of information to which it is entitled is a crime.” However,” also according to the coalition, “no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for a violation of the Brown Act.
To view the Dorsey/Hernandez board meeting presentation and judge for yourself log on to the county website at http://www.sbcounty.gov/Main/Pages/ViewMeetings.aspx and click on Reports from County Counsel and Chief Executive Officer.