Northern California: District Attorney sides with citizen about Brown Act violation

Butte County District Attorney agreed with a citizen who said the Oroville City council violated the Brown Act, California’s open government law, when it appointed a fire chief and approved free rent and the use of a city car on weekends in closed session last August and failed to report the rent and car benefits. -DB

Oroville Mercury-Register
November 6, 2009
By Mary Weston

OROVILLE — Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey asked the city of Oroville to cure and correct a situation that a local woman reported as a Brown Act violation.

Patricia Noel wrote a letter to the District Attorney’s Office, saying the City Council violated the Brown Act when it appointed Fire Chief Charles Hurley and approved free rent on a house and the use of a city car on weekends in closed session on Aug. 25.

After the closed session, the council announced the appointment but not the added compensation of the house and car.

Ramsey said he discussed the issue with city administration.

“I said they really should do a cure and correction,” Ramsey said.

Appointing the fire chief in closed session wasn’t a problem. However, the Brown Act restricts approving salaries and compensation to government employees in closed sessions.

“The reason for that is with any sort of compensation the public has a right to know what the compensation is, and the public has a right not to have that happen in closed session,” Ramsey said.

One of the problems was that a previously approved contract didn’t include the added compensation, but stated it contained the total of Chief Hurley’s compensation, Ramsey said.

Ramsey said city management said there had been no intentional concealment of the use of the house and car.

However, Ramsey said it could be perceived that way regardless of the intention.

Ramsey said the city agreed to put the item on the agenda, and bring it back to the council for approval at a public meeting. When asked if he thought it was a Brown Act violation, Ramsey replied, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Brown Act violation or not; this would cure it either way.”

City Attorney Dwight Moore said he disagreed there was a violation that needed cure and correction.

Moore said the city complied with noticing and describing what generally took place in the closed session.

“However, rather than getting involved in some long discussion over that, it seems simpler to have an open meeting of the council again and discuss it, and that’s all that needs to be done,” Moore said.

Copyright 2009 Oroville Mercury-Register