(Mod: Last Thursday the SGVCOG held a meeting, and the topic of Brown Act training came up. It wasn't the first time, and given this organization's infamous run-ins with this state law, along with some rather obvious consequences, you'd think they would be eager to learn. However, along with ethical challenges often comes entitlement, a notion that somehow the rules don't apply and that any attempt to bring so rogue an organization to legal heel is in blatant disregard of its perceived "specialness." I think that after reading Gil's post you will agree that those still running the COG have a lot to learn.)
"We are being punished"
Those were the words used by delegate Bruce Lathrop at the recent San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) meeting to describe having to participate in a review of the Brown Act, the State's primary open meeting and transparency law.
And Mr. Lathrop did not seem alone in his sentiment. The entire SGVCOG board struggled to even agree on a time for the review, with SGVCOG President Barbara Messina concerned that a quorum of the Board might not even attend.
One might think that the Board members were being asked to sit through an arduous two day seminar, or at least a class stretching over several hours. But that is not the case, the review would be a mere one hour long.
Now if there was ever a need for a Brown Act review session by a legislative body, the SGVCOG Board might qualify as the poster child for such training. Litigation was filed last year against the agency alleging what can only be described as a litany of past and ongoing violations. Lapses such as: holding unauthorized secret meetings, preventing members of the public from speaking during meetings, failing to post agendas for meetings, and discussing items of business which were not on the agendas. I'm sure you get the idea.
And this Brown Act training, or punishment as the Board seems to see it, is really a self-imposed condition. You see, the Board previously voted to settle the litigation and agreed that they needed the training. Apparently during a brief moment of clarity, the Board felt complying with the law might be a better way to go than risk facing a judge where real punishment might be doled out.
Based on their track record for violations, the SGVCOG Board should consider embracing this review instead of resisting it. With all due respect, each of the members should plan on arriving early, getting a prime seat down in front and taking copious notes during the class. Their past actions certainly show that they are in desperate need of learning more about their legal obligations to the public, which is, of course, who they are supposed to serve.
Mr. Lathrop got it wrong. Bruce, along with the rest of the SGVCOG members, aren't the ones being punished. It is the public who is being punished, and has been for a while. We are being punished for our decision to elect officials who are willing to disregard our rights and conduct themselves more like a secret society rather than a body of public servants.
The SGVCOG members would do well to remember that we elected them to conduct our business, not their business, and that we have every right to observe and participate in that process.
Hopefully that will be covered in class.
(Mod: To find out the names of your SGVCOG Brown Act Class of 2012 members, feel free to click here.)