Plumas County forms ad hoc committee to skirt open meeting law

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors formed an ad hoc committee to consider a Feather River College for a “temporary transfer” of funds not over $5 million. The supervisors want to expedite action on the request, and ad hoc committees do not have to give notice of meetings and post agendas in advance. -db

Plumas County News
September 22, 2010
By Joshua Sebold

The Board of Supervisors approved the formation of an ad hoc committee at their Tuesday, Sep. 14, meeting to address Feather River College’s request for a “temporary transfer” of up to $5 million from the county.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire advised the supervisors to create an ad hoc committee instead of an advisory committee because ad hoc groups don’t have to meet the requirements of the Brown Act.

The Brown Act requires governing boards and advisory committees to give notice before meeting and post agendas in advance.

“Based on the information we’ve received from the college, this is something that would probably require some quick action,” Settlemire said.

“We need a number of different meetings, and if we had to comply with the Brown Act to do that, it would slow the process down.”

An ad hoc committee consists of two supervisors, who can then decide who to consult, while an advisory committee designates county employees or other experts on a topic to sit on the committee with two BOS members.

Ingstad told the board he agreed with Settlemire’s suggestion.

College president Dr. Ron Taylor told the supervisors he was requesting “an advance on local property tax funds that would end up coming to us in any case eventually.”

Taylor is correct that the county will give a similar sum of money to the college eventually, but that normally wouldn’t happen until after Plumas taxpayers give the money to the county, which is also in the “eventually” category.

Bill Elliott, president of the FRC board of trustees, used a similar explanation when his board authorized the college to make the request, telling his fellow trustees the college would just be “taking our money early.”

Although true, it ignores the fact the county can’t get its money early: Plumas County residents don’t have to pay their property taxes until December and April.

The part no one can debate is the impact of the down economy on Plumas County.

“Due to the state budget impasse we are not receiving state apportionment funds since July at this point,” Taylor said.

“It’s getting to be a very dire situation, where we’ll basically run out of money here sometime in October we believe.

“I wanted to stress that it’s an ‘as needed’ request. In other words we want to work with the county in cooperation just basically to meet our basic needs during the months, month by month, if the state doesn’t have a budget.

“We understand there are difficult times for all publicly funded entities and I’m sure the county included.

“The county I’m sure has its own cash flow issues, and other districts are undoubtedly in a similar boat, but we are in a situation where it’s getting pretty crucial.”

He went on to address the relationship between the county and the college.

“If we can’t operate, obviously there’s an economic impact on the county in a variety of ways.”

“Our employees wouldn’t be buying things and events wouldn’t happen that draw people to local business and that kind of thing. I sure hope it doesn’t come to that.”

He also assured the board borrowing from the county wasn’t the only solution the college was pursuing.

“We’re looking at borrowing privately and things like that, but we think without this we might well be in a dire situation.”

Thrall told her fellow board members she and supervisor Lori Simpson would begin working on the issue that afternoon.

“What will this money be used for?” Ole Olsen asked.

“Basically our payroll and other basic expenses that are essential to keeping the college open,” Taylor responded.

“I see, you want to borrow money from the county and yet the county has had to lay off people because we don’t have the money. I mean, I just don’t get the reasoning there,” Olsen countered.

“Well it’s a matter of timing is the way to look at it,” Taylor suggested.

“You’ve got a bigger source of funds than the county does though, you know, coming from the state,” Olsen continued. “The state’s got a bigger, supposedly deeper pockets than we do, yet we have to let our employees off.”

“We’ve faced that already and probably will again in the coming months,” Taylor assured him.

In a phone interview later in the week, Ingstad said the committee met with him and other county employees and set up a meeting with the college to address questions.

He said the situation was very complicated for many reasons, partially because Settlemire informed him there is no case law pertaining to this kind of financial solution, only an education code saying this kind of transfer could be done.

A lack of case law means there has never been any related litigation, which suggests a county and college have rarely attempted it.

Ingstad said the county was taking the request seriously but had many questions such: What has the college done to cut spending? Can the county “temporarily transfer” funds from areas other than the general fund, which doesn’t have enough money?

Ingstad said the road and mental health departments had large reserves that in theory could be used. But, if the county could use those restricted funds for this kind of action, perhaps the college had restricted funds as well and he would have to investigate whether the college could use those instead.

He said even if the county considered helping the college, it would also have to think about whether other districts, like the Plumas Unified School District, would also need help sometime in the near future.

The CAO said ultimately those factors would have to be balanced to determine what was appropriate and best for the county.

He said the county was taking the request so seriously because of “the importance of the college,” which he said was “critical to the local economy.”

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