Board Of Supervisors’ Christmas Morning Mystery Meeting Has Residents Guessing About What’s Up

A common trick by government officials used to hide their activity from the public is to schedule votes or action at meetings that take place right before holidays, particularly over Christmas holidays.
The Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, requires that public agencies have their elected decision-making authorities carry out their official action in the forum of a public meeting which is noticed ahead of time and which has an agenda or catalog of the matters to be considered or voted upon. When a county board of supervisors, a city or town council or a board of directors for a school district, water district, fire district or similar entity is about to embark on a particularly controversial program or effort, having the action take place at nighttime meeting a day or two or three before Christmas can result in no one being present when the discussion of that matter and a vote on it is made. With a little luck or further obfuscation – such as burying the discussion and vote among dozens, scores or even hundreds of other items to be considered or voted upon at the same meeting – the public might miss what takes place entirely and never catch on at all to what occurred. If a resident or citizen does see what is happening, he or she may not see it until after the action is taken, at which point it is too late to register a protest or resistance. In those rare cases where a citizen discovers what is being done in a timely fashion and does make a protest or mounts some opposition, he or she is very likely to be doing so on his or her own, in a vacuum as it were, where no one else or very few others are present to join in with the protest or resistance, allowing the governmental officials to proceed without effective opposition.
This year, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is going even further in the effort to take action outside the witness, scrutiny or review of the public.
The board is scheduled to meet in a closed session at 9 a.m. on Christmas morning for a discussion that in any event will not occur within the eyesight or earshot of the public at large, whereupon it will meet in an open session at 10 a.m..
The county is giving the public fair and legal warning of what is to take place by posting the agenda for the Christmas morning meeting on the county’s website Whether anyone other than the supervisors and involved county staff – residents, citizens, taxpayers, or regular Joes – will show up at the meeting is doubtful. After all, Christmas morning is, well, Christmas morning.
Despite the official notice, it is not clear from the posted agenda exactly what action the board is going to take.
According to the agenda, the first order of business is to be “public comment on closed session agenda items” which is to take place sometime prior to 9 a.m. in the Covington Chambers where the board of supervisors normally meets on the first floor of the County Government Center at 385 North Arrowhead Avenue. The agenda, however, does not specify what those closed session items are to be. At 9 a.m., according to the agenda, the supervisors are to adjourn into a closed session that is to take place in the Magda Lawson Room on the fifth floor, from which the public will be excluded. At 10 a.m., the board is scheduled to reconvene in the Covington Chambers on the first floor, again before any members of the public who happen to be there. After standard ceremonials such as the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, proclamations, presentations, resolutions and citations of memorials or tributes to retiring county employees or public officials as well as recently deceased county residents, the public session of the meeting is to commence.
The agenda is somewhat vague as to what is to be considered or voted upon, with only generic descriptions given, including “a) Consider additions of emergency or urgency items to the agenda to be placed on the consent or discussion calendar at the board’s discretion pursuant to government code section 54954.2(b) or (b)(2).
“b) notice of minor revisions to agenda items, items removed or continued from the board of supervisors’ agenda.”
Thereafter, the agenda lists “consent calendar, county departments, board of supervisors, separated entities, multijurisdictional items, ordinances for introduction, ordinances for final adoption, discussion calendar, board of supervisors action on [the] consent calendar, [and] deferred items.”
Thereafter public comment is to follow. “In accordance with County Code section 12.0101, any member of the public may address the board on any matter not on the agenda that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the board,” the agenda states.
Though the agenda does schedule time for the public to speak with regard to any items not on the agenda, it does not specify at what point the public can speak with regard to items on the agenda. Despite that, the agenda carries the following caveat: “If you challenge any decision regarding any of the above proposals in court, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised during the public testimony period regarding that proposal or in written correspondence delivered to the board of supervisors at, or prior to, the public hearing.”
The last item on the agenda sets aside an allotment of five minutes for each of the board members to make comments.
The Sentinel was unable to get any clarity from the county on what precise action or votes the board of supervisors will be taking on Christmas morning.

Leave a Reply