Citizen complains Chico City Council violated Brown Act by not reporting salary perks out of closed meeting

When the Chico City Council approved the appointment of a new fire chief in a closed session August 25, they failed to include in a meeting agenda some perks added to the original contract. A citizen now wants the perks on the agenda in November so that the public could comment. -DB

Chico Enterprise-Record
October 8, 2009
By Mary Weston

OROVILLE — A resident has complained that the Oroville City Council violated the Brown Act on Aug. 25, when councilors announced the appointment of new Fire Chief Charles Harley after closed session, without announcing some perks added to the original contract.

While this didn’t appear to be a violation of the Brown Act at the time of the meeting, the subsequent handling of the issue apparently leaves gray areas and questions about how the city disseminated public information.

On Sept. 1, the council approved a contract agreement with Hurley. The agenda packet included a copy of the contract agreement effective Aug. 26, 2009, without the added perks.

The contract runs to Aug. 23, 2011 and was fairly standard. There’s a salary of $95,000 a year and travel pay for official business, training and meetings, not to exceed the amount appropriated in the budget.

Additionally, the city would provide Hurley with a vehicle for use while on duty.

But in a letter to Hurley dated Sept. 1, City Administrator Sharon Atteberry listed extra perks that were approved by a “consensus” of councilors in closed session.

The council gave Hurley the free use of a city-owned house for six months. Hurley would also have a fire chief’s vehicle on weekends to drive round-trip to Roseville for 90 days. Hurley would fill up the vehicle once a month to help offset fuel costs.

Patricia Noel claimed in a letter to the city the Aug. 25 meeting had been a Brown Act violation, as the information acted on in closed session wasn’t disclosed to the public before or after the closed session.

Noel states the city should cure the violation by putting the additional perks on the November agenda for action, and allowing the public to comment.

City Attorney Dwight Moore said last week the city didn’t need to cure the action, as there was no Brown Act violation.

Moore said when actions are taken in closed session, the council is required to announce what action is taken, but not every detail of the action.

But the contract is public information. That’s where the issue gets sticky.

The Mercury-Register asked Atteberry for a copy of Hurley’s contract on Thursday, after first calling Liz Ehrenstrom of human resources for the same document.

Atteberry said it’s public information, and she would have someone in the City Clerk’s Office fax it, as human resources didn’t have the contract.

The document was promptly faxed and received that day. However, the contract didn’t contain information about the housing and vehicle.

After several phone calls to get the other information, the newspaper finally got the letter late Thursday.

Copyright 2009 Chico Enterprise-Record