February 20, 2012
Mr. Vince Harris
Stanislaus Council of Governments
1111 I Street, Suite 308
Modesto, CA 95354
RE: VIOLATIONS OF RALPH M. BROWN ACT;
DEMAND FOR CURE AND CORRECTION
Dear Mr. Harris,
Californians Aware demands a cure and correction of repeated violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code Section 54950 et seq.), consisting of meetings of a quorum of its Policy Board of the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) without notice to the public or accommodation of public attendance.
StanCOG, as a joint powers agency, is subject to the Brown Act with respect to the meetings of its governing body, the Policy Board.
While the Policy Board comprises 16 elected officials, StanCOG’s voting members comprise only 10 public agencies—Stanislaus County and nine incorporated municipalities: Modesto, Ceres, Hughson, Newman, Oakdale, Patterson, Newman, Riverbank and Waterford. Of those members, the bylaws provide that six constitute a voting quorum, since six is a majority of the member agencies. Thus the presence of six mayors, for example, can permit the conduct of business, and of those six as few as four—both a majority and two thirds of those present as a bare quorum—can determine the position of the Policy Board.
As it happens, six mayors—representing Modesto, Newman, Oakdale, Patterson, Riverbank and Waterford—constitute a “Mayors’ Working Group” which, we are reliably informed, has for months been meeting informally without notice to the public or the opportunity for public attendance, developing a ballot initiative on agricultural preservation.
The effect is that a majority of the Policy Board’s voting members has been meeting out of compliance with the Brown Act to develop policy proposals for legislative action at the ballot box. This non-noticed, nonpublic process has been a continuing violation of the Brown Act.
Californians Aware demands the following corrective actions:
1. The immediate cessation of the Mayors’ Working Goup meetings.
2. Release for public inspection by each member agency represented in the Mayors’ Working Group of any and all agendas, minutes or other documents, including email, produced or distributed to member mayors to support or reflect the work of the Working Group.
3. Full compliance with all Brown Act requirements by all future meetings of the Policy Board officials designated as members of the Mayors’ Working Group, namely Mayors Ridenour of Modesto, Katen of Newman, Paul of Oakdale, Molina of Patterson, Madueno of Riverbank and Goeken of Waterford.
Failure to comply with this demand at the Policy Board’s March meeting will cause me to recommend to our Litigation Committee that we file an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Superior Court of Stanislaus County to determine the applicability of the law to the meetings of the Mayors’ Working Group, for an order compelling Brown Act compliance in the future, and for costs and attorney fees.
Stanislaus COG agreed to some changes in response to CalAware’s Demand.