Oceano CSD emergency meeting for Sunday

April 3, 2011

Jim Hill

UPDATE: Amid concerns that appointing two board members would result in a quorum not elected by the people, the Oceano Community Service District board voted 3-0 to appoint two directors by June 2.

The vote came after the public voiced concerns over the cost of a special election and questions about district staff being unprepared for the special meeting.

District legal counsel Molly Thurmond said the district could hold a special election, appoint directors or hold an advisory election where they could hear the voices of the people without the cost of a special election. Thurmond then noted she knew very little about advisory elections.

During public comment, Julie Tacker chastised staff for calling a meeting on a Sunday without being prepared.

“If you are going to discuss an advisory vote you should know something about it,” Tacker said. “To make informed decisions on a Sunday night you should have the information in front of you.”

ORIGINAL: In response to the resignation of two Oceano Community Service District board directors, district officials have scheduled an emergency meeting for Sunday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m.

On March 29, former directors Jim Hill and Carole Henson tendered their resignations, citing disagreements with district manager Raffaele Montemurro over his accounting practices and failure to follow the board’s direction.

During the emergency meeting, the three remaining directors will determine who will cover committee assignments, most of which were covered by board president Hill and director Henson, and how their empty seats will be filled.

At a March 23 board meeting, district legal counsel Molly Thurmond nixed an agenda item set to evaluate Montemurro because she believed performance evaluations are to be held in closed session even though Montemurro said he desired an open session evaluation.

However, the Brown Act allows performance evaluations to be heard in closed session, “unless the employee requests a public session.”

The three remaining board members, Lori Angello, Matthew Guerrero, and Mary Lucey, have 60 days to appoint two new board members or hold a special election.

“I would prefer to have the public elect a new board member,” said Guerrero noting that if the board appoints to new members that would leave only two elected directors on the five member board.

At this time Lori Angelo and Mary Lucey are the only elected director on the board. Guerrero was appointed after former director Vern Dahl resigned.

In February 2010, after Barbara Mann resigned from the board, Lori Angello was appointed by a vote of 2-1 with one director abstaining.

Shortly afterwards, director Pamela Dean said the board violated its own rules of order by appointing Angello with only two votes. In addition the vote violated Government Code Section 61045, which says, “a majority of the total membership of the board of directors shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.”

After Angello refused to step down, Dean filed a civil lawsuit against the Oceano Community Service District and Angello for the illegal appointment.

On March 17, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall ruled that Angello’s appointment was not legal, but by that time the issue was moot, Angello, who ran unopposed, won a seat in the November election.

Even so, Crandall said Dean has the right to go after the district and Angello for legal fees.

Meanwhile, the district is slated to discuss Montemurro’s performance during an April 13 board meeting.

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Oceano is having some trouble, but at least someone is keeping an eye on what they are doing. They lost two good watchdogs in Hill and Henson. CSD boards should provide oversight of the GM and action taken in the name of and using the money of local residents. In watching the OCSD meetings, the frustration was palpable and growing.

But I applaud the desire of GM Montemurro to have his evaluation in open session. The Brown Act can always be interpreted to allow MORE openness and transparency.

The government watchdog organization Californians Aware (Calaware.org) has excellent information about public forum law (open meetings “Brown Act” and open records “CPRA”) on their website. There is information about how to advocate for open government and how to ensure access and participation opportunities. As has been said before: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” On a page titled “Ideas for developing your own Sunshine Ordinance” it says the following:

“An often overlooked aspect of both the Brown Act and the Public Records Act is that they do not pre-empt or discourage local agencies from adopting their own more accommodating rules. On the contrary, these statutes expressly authorize public agencies to do so

The Brown Act provides, in Government Code Section 54953.7:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, legislative bodies of local agencies may impose requirements upon themselves which allow greater access to their meetings than prescribed by the minimum standards set forth in this chapter…” (emphasis added)

The Public Records Act provides, in Government Code Section 6253.1:

“Except as otherwise prohibited by law, a state or local agency may adopt requirements for itself which allow greater access to records than prescribed by the minimum standards set forth in this chapter…” (emphasis added)

Thus the Brown Act and Public Records Act, by their own terms, are not a ceiling on the access rights that citizens may expect of their government, but a floor below which their rights may not descend: “minimum standards” for public participation and information. ”

and, more importantly, this suggestion:

“No closed personnel sessions relating to the chief executive officer.

Period. This is the single most consequential individual in the government, and how he/she is hired, evaluated, etc. is essential not only to understanding how the big problems of the agency are dealt with, but to holding accountable the elected officials in performing their single most significant function. The CEO is the lens on the whole operation, and one the public has a right and a need to look through. Those who are not ready for this scrutiny can serve elsewhere or, to put it more positively, those who are ready for the scrutiny are the kind of people you want for those big bucks. ”

Amanda Rice, Cambria