District Attorney Warns FORA Committee About Open-Meeting Violations
February 11, 2013
Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo (pictured above) is flashing a red light over the Brown Act.
Members of a Fort Ord Reuse Authority committee blatantly violated California's open-meetings law throughout November and December, according to a press release issued today from Flippo's office.
FORA's Administrative Committee convened unannounced Nov. 13 and continued to flaunt the Brown Act with email communications through December, the press release states.
Flippo sent letters to each member of the committee, "warning them to cease violations of California's open-meetings law," according to the press release. The subject of the illicit communications: a proposed 16-point priority list, known as the "guiding principles," for the implementation of the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan.
The document became controversial at a mid-December FORA meeting, when Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe raised the issue of Brown Act compliance. Watchdogs took issue with certain principles, most notably the proposal to restrict land-use decision-making to jurisdictions allotted Fort Ord land. If adopted, it would have allowed Seaside, Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Monterey and Monterey County to make those critical votes, leaving Sand City, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Salinas out. The FORA committee is made up of staff representatives of the five land-holding cities.
One open-space group, Keep Fort Ord Wild, asked the FORA board to send the matter of potential Brown Act violations to the DA. The county Board of Supervisors rescinded its earlier support of the guiding principles Feb. 5. With some FORA board members acknowledging the matter was mishandled, the document appears to be headed to the recycle bin.
But it probably won't be heading to court. A civil suit would require proof of both a Brown Act violation and resulting harm, the press release states; the harm was averted with actions such as the supervisors' speedy withdrawal of support for the guiding principles. "Consequently," it states, "there is no harm justifying a lawsuit at this time."
The FORA committee may have gotten lucky with its timing. A law effective Jan. 1 allows a civil suit to proceed even if no harm is proven, the press release notes. The new rule allows "any interested party" up to nine months to demand that an agency cease and desist violating the Brown Act; if the agency doesn't promise to behave, it could face a lawsuit.