County counsel denies Brown Act violation

By From page A10 | December 07, 2012

County Counsel Lou Green wrote the response quoted below to questions regarding action taken at Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting. In a written statement county Auditor-Controller Joe Harn challenged a board decision to increase the salaries of Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr and Health and Human Services Director Daniel Nielson.

Harn expressed concern that the salary increases were not identified as a separate item on the board’s agenda and therefore the decision may have represented a violation of the open meeting law known as the Brown Act. The recommendation for the two raises was related to and part of a larger board decision that approved creation of a new Community Development Agency.

County Counsel’s opinion follows:

Joe’s complaint seems to be that the adjustment of the ACAO and HHS Director’s salaries weren’t specifically listed on the agenda as actions to be taken. While I understand his point — that somebody just reading the agenda wouldn’t know those actions were included, I don’t think that amounts to a Brown Act violation. The Brown Act says the agenda must include “a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, . . . A brief general description of the item generally need not exceed 20 words.” (Government Code section 54954.2.)

The idea is to give a brief general description of the item so that if the person is interested they can inquire further and learn more. Sometimes we go way beyond this and list every constituent element of the action to be taken. Other times we don’t, like this situation. In this case, we merely said ,”Chief Administrative Office recommending the board consider the creation of a consolidated Community Development Agency by combining the Development Services Department, Environmental Management Department and the Department of Transportation and take any necessary action regarding same.”

I think this is enough to satisfy the Brown Act. It gives a general description of the action to be taken and specifically states that additional actions may be taken. It allows a person who is interested to inquire further. It doesn’t list any of the specific acts to be taken (e.g. adjusting salaries for the assistant directors, establishing job specs for those positions) either.

I do understand Joe’s point since salaries are sensitive issues, especially of highly placed personnel in the organization. He might want to talk to CAO Terri Daly about being more specific on the agenda.  But, I don’t think it rises to the level of a Brown Act violation.

Chris Daley

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