Oroville City Council to remedy Brown Act violation this week

After failing to put up for public discussion all details of a compensation package for a new fire chief, the Oroville City Council will correct the Brown Act violation by considering the package in an open meeting. -DB

Oroville Mercury-Register
November 15, 2009
By Mary Weston

OROVILLE, Calif. — The City Council has an item to cure and correct a Brown Act violation on the docket Tuesday, as well as a decision about declaring housing conditions at the Oroville Inn a nuisance and ordering abatement of the nuisance within 60 days.

The public meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 1735 Montgomery St.

A cure and correction for an alleged Brown Act violation incurred by the City Council is listed on the consent agenda. The violation occurred when councilors approved a rent-free house for six months and use of a car for 90 days for new Fire Chief Charles Hurley in closed session on Sept. 25.

Consent agenda items can all be approved with one vote and without discussion. However, anyone can ask for an item to be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion and for an individual vote.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey asked the city to cure and correct the violation, at the request of a local citizen, Patricia Noel.

Ramsey said the Brown Act requires items relating to compensation to be approved in an open meeting, as the public has a right to know what public employees are paid, and they have a right to comment.

Noel first wrote a letter to the city requesting a cure and correction. However, City Attorney Dwight Moore had replied that a correction wasn’t needed, as there was no violation. Moore said councils can appoint public employees in closed session without listing or announcing all terms of employment.

The council had approved Hurley’s initial contract and compensation during a public meeting on Sept. 1. The added perks of a house and car were not added to the original contract.

An opinion from First Amendment Coalition Counsel Holmes Roberts and Owen LLP also deemed the approval of the house and car in closed session a Brown Act violation. The appointment of a new chief in closed session announced after the session is allowed.

“However, ‘closed sessions may not include a discussion of or action on proposed compensation except for a reduction of compensation that results from the imposition of discipline,’ ” the coalition counsel wrote, quoting section 57957(b)(1) of the California Government Code.

The Brown Act “serves to facilitate public participation in all phases of local government decision-making and curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation of public bodies,” counsel wrote, quoting from Epstein v Hollywood Entertainment Dist. II Business Improvement District.

“The main purpose of the Brown Act is therefore to require the local governing bodies, including city councils, to conduct their deliberations and make their decisions in public, as well as to give the public notice of any such meeting,” counsel wrote, quoting California Government Code section 54950, 54954.2(a).

In regular business, the council will address the Oroville Inn abatement for the second time.

The city inspected the inn and issued a list of more than 600 code violations for the building earlier this year.

At a meeting in October, the city and the owner disagreed about whether each violation — from holes in sheet rock to leaks in pipes — needed building permits.

The council, however, voted to order an abatement within 60 days of passing a resolution. The resolution is on Tuesday night’s agenda.

The council will also consider adopting a Sanitary Sewer Management Plan for operating, maintaining and repairing the sewer system.

Copyright 2009 Oroville Mercury-Register