Did SLO County officials violate the Brown Act again?

May 1, 2023


Less than a week after prosecutors ordered the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to stop breaking the Brown Act, the board has now been accused of failing to publicly appoint its new administrator.

On April 19, the board went into closed session to discuss the selection and appointment of an interim county administrative officer. After more than three hours, County Council Rita Neal reported the board took no reportable action.

However, six days later, the county announced the board had appointed John Nilon as interim CAO, though it was not announced which supervisors voted to hire Nilon and which did not.

While the Brown Act permits a board to consider hiring an administrator in closed session, the appointment needs to be done in a public meeting.

“The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is pleased to announce the appointment of John Nilon, retired Kern County CAO and Cambria resident, to serve as interim CAO for a minimum of three months,” the county says in its announcement. “Mr. Nilon will take the reins on May 1, 2023, from CAO Wade Horton who recently resigned.”

While Nilon took over as CEO on Monday, the board is scheduled to vote to approve his employment agreement on Tuesday, according to the May 2 agenda. Nilon is in line to receive a salary of approximately $25,000 a month, a $450 monthly car allowances and $1,475 a month for health insurance.

Activist Julie Tacker sent an email on April 26 to the county demanding it cure and correct its action because discussions involving “salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits, of a local agency executive” are not allowed to occur in special meetings, with a carbon copy sent to the SLO County District Attorney’s Office.

Assistant County Counsel Jon Ansolabehere rejected Tackers request, saying that while the board had voted to negotiate a contract with Nilon during the April 19 meeting, the supervisors did not discuss compensation.

In an email response, District Attorney Dan Dow says that if the board voted in closed session to appoint Nilon, the board was legally required to report the vote following the closed session discussion. And if they did not appoint Nilon in closed session, the press release announcing the appointment must be wrong.

“This causes me to conclude that the press release was indeed inaccurate and I urge that it should be immediately corrected, because the steps required for an employee appointment were apparently not completed,” Dow writes in his email to Ansolabehere. “This directly contradicts the plain language of the press release which states the appointment was already made.”

Even so, the county did not change the press release and Nilon began serving as the county’s CEO on Monday.

“With this and with the board’s agenda being posted, I have complete faith that the public is intelligent enough to understand that the board will be considering that final step next week and that any
members of the public who wish to address the board will have an opportunity to do so,” Ansolabehere responded to Dow. “Appreciate the dialogue.”

SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson violated the Brown Act on Feb. 28 when he discussed an item not on the agenda which did not provide an opportunity for public participation, the SLO County District Attorney’s Office later concluded.

On March 25, Deputy District Attorney Ken Jorgensen ordered county officials to start complying with the Brown Act.

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Thank goodness for activists like Julie Tacker and a committed DA Dan Dow and Public Integrity Unit Deputy DA Kenneth Jorgensen.  Think about where our County and local government would be without their vigilance.