Friday, December 13, 2013

CBOC Secretary alleges Brown Act Violation

CBOC Secretary Charles Cowens has just submitted the following complaint to the DA:

WCCUSD CBOC Brown Act Issue

I am a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee. I am also a member of the Audit Subcommittee. WCCUSD's Bill Fay (Associate Superintendent - Chief Operations Officer) and his subordinate Magdy Abdalla (District Engineering Officer) have always maintained that the Brown Act does not apply to our subcommittee, because it doesn't have a regular meeting schedule. Members of the committee like myself disagree. 

Our subcommittee held a meeting on March 18th that was successfully noticed within the Brown Act on the home page of the Committee <> at the request of the then subcommittee chair Kris Hunt.  Later, under a new subcommittee chair Orlandus Waters, our subcommittee attempted to hold a meeting on November 7th. Mr. Waters submitted an agenda and request to notice the meeting on our website. It was not posted in time (or at all), Mr. Waters rescheduled for November 12th. When our committee chair Ivette Ricco talked to Abdalla on the phone, he told her he wouldn't post it because he didn't think it was covered by the Brown Act. Ms. Ricco submitted Mr. Waters request for noticing without mentioning the Brown Act, just public interest. This act of stealth Brown Act compliance did not succeed. No notice was posted. Mr. Waters proceeded with the meeting anyway. I attended under protest.

The next meeting is 5pm, December 4th. Ms. Ricco submitted an agenda and a request for noticing last Tuesday. It was simply ignored. We will have to meet under protest again.
What can we do? This is a legislative body (our subcommittee) that wants to comply with the Brown Act, but is prevented in doing so by the staff of the public agency it is associated with. This is absurd. The staff seems to have some theory that _only_ Brown Act meetings should be publicized at all. However, since they control our website, it's hard to do anything about this.
I have also attached an e-mail (2 page) to two school board members explaining my understanding of the applicability of the Brown Act to the subcommittee.
Thank you for any help you can give, 
Charles Cowens

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Background on Brown Act Issue for the CBOC Audit Subcommittee
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2013 16:13:56 -0800
From: Charley Cowens <>
To: Todd Groves <>, Elaine Merriweather <> CC: Ivette Ricco <>

As Ivette has pointed out in her e-mail to the whole Board, there is a much bigger issue between CBOC and staff than just interpreting the Brown Act. However, as our respective board member nominators, I thought I would give you two a little more background on the Brown Act issue.
1. Everyone agrees the Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee is subject to the Brown Act as a "legislative body."
2. The Brown Act in 54952(b) distinguishes between advisory committees of a legislative body (not subject to the Brown Act) and standing committees (subject to the Brown Act):
"standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter." 3. Notice the word "or" meaning: if _any_ of these conditions are met, it's a standing committee.
4. The CBOC Audit Subcommittee has a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, in that:

A. It's listed in the by-laws as a committee.
B. It has a clear subject matter: the annual required audits including audit contracts, follow up, and the mid-year reports.
C. It has no implicit or explicit terminating condition.
D. It has a continuing membership including a chair throughout the year.

5. Therefore, meetings of the CBOC Audit Subcommittee are subject to the Brown Act requirements for notice, agenda, and public participation.
The interpretation of what a district-paid lawyer said about this during a training is going to vary by the listener. I remember a lot of hemming and hawing on this issue from him. A real legal opinion is written and includes a set of actual or hypothetical assumed facts and verifiable legal references. This doesn't exist from what I know.

I'm also including a link to an Attorney General's Opinion concerning a case very similar to the Audit Subcommittee that supports what I am saying. Key issues in this are:
1) It doesn't matter how you label a committee in determining whether it is a standing committee.
2) The dictionary is the main way you figure out what "continuing subject matter jurisdiction" means. Charley Cowens 

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