OPEN MEETINGS -- A warning from Californians Aware led to the cancellation of a meeting by a rural fire board Tuesday night that would have invited firefighters and volunteers into closed session to state their ideas for a new chief and for the future direction of the district.

As reported by Michael Woodward of the Anderson Valley Post,

With the legality of the night's closed session meeting questioned,
the Anderson Fire Protection District board voted unanimously to cancel
its meeting Tuesday night rather than face a promised complaint. The
board also decided to consider a procedure for hiring a fire chief
before interviewing two candidates.

Three attorneys warned that the Anderson Fire Protection District
meeting July 28 appeared to violate the state’s open meeting laws.

The meeting agenda had board members going into closed session to
meet with fire district employees and volunteers to discuss the hiring
of a fire chief. The district board continues its discussion over the
hiring of a new fire chief since the announced resignation of Chief Joe
Piccinini on July 7.

That meeting would be semi-public and not legal, according to
Californians Aware general counsel Terry Francke agreed with two other
attorneys.

“I agree with the ... attorneys for the California Newspaper
Publishers Association and the California First Amendment Coalition
that the Brown Act would not permit this selective invitation to make
private presentations to the board on these topics,” Francke said.

The board opted instead to meet with firefighters in open session at
the next board meeting despite board chairman Keith Webster's assurance
that district legal counsel Mike Fitzpatrick "strongly believes we're
on solid legal grounds."

Fitzpatrick was not present at the meeting to explain his reasoning, nor did Webster communicate it.

“If the board persists in this illegally discriminatory procedure we
will tomorrow invite the California Newspaper Publishers
Association, the California First Amendment Coalition and all their
Shasta County members to join us in filing a complaint seeking an
investigation and possible criminal prosecution of each participating
director by the District Attorney,” Francke told the Valley Post in an
e-mail on Tuesday that was forwarded to the district before the meeting.

"We don't want to spend a lot of money going to court," board member
Butch Schaefer said. "We want to do this legally and lawfully."