Three councilmen accused of violating Brown Act and engaging i a vendetta against Thompson
Three members of the Taft City Council came under sharp criticism again by the Kern County Grand Jury for violating California’s open meeting laws and engaging in what the Grand Jury’s Cities and Joint Powers Committee called “a vendetta” against a fourth councilman when they signed and sent a letter demanding his silence.
“The apparent actions,” the Grand Jury said, “have violated the Brown Act and the interests of the city of Taft.”
“An attempt to silence an elected official has the effect of disenfranchising the people,” the report said.
It is the second time in three months that the city has come under fire from the public watchdog.
In a strongly worded report issued Wednesday morning, the Grand Jury said a letter signed by three members of the council and addressed to a fourth on March 31 was a “prima facie” violation of the Brown Act.
Moreover, the report said, the letter was evidence of continued divisions on the council.
The report did not name any of the councilmen involved, but it is an apparent reference to a letter signed by Mayor Dave Noerr and councilmen Paul Linder and Randy Miller that was given to Councilman Cliff Thompson.
(The Midway Driller learned Wednesday that a similar letter was given to Craig Noble at about the same time but the Grand Jury was apparently not made aware of it.)
The three councilmen who signed the letter should be immediately retrained on the Brown Act and the council should put the report on the agenda for a meeting within 30 days “for the sole purpose of soliciting comments from the citizens of Taft on what actions to take to resolve the issues present.”
The letter was a violation of the Brown Act since there is no evidence that it was ever placed on a council agenda, the report said, but it was written on City of Taft letterhead and signed by three members of the council.
The report said the letter demanded “silence on certain matters” by Thompson.
Thompson was subsequently censured by the three councilmen that signed the letter, but the Grand jury Report said that censure was based on “unproven perceived improprieties.”
The report had very harsh words for the actions of the majority of the council:
“The three members being investigated in the present report seem to be pursuing a vendetta against the other two members and have lost sight of the true role of a Council member (i.e., representing the citizens and the interests of the City of Taft). All members of the City Council must lay aside personal differences and return solely to the business of representing the citizens and governing the City of Taft in accordance with all laws and regulations.”
Here is the complete text of the report:
CITY OF TAFT
BROWN ACT VIOLATION
PURPOSE OF INQUIRY:
The Cities and Joint Powers Committee (Committee) of the 2009-2010 Kern County Grand Jury conducted an investigation into a violation of California Government Code §54952.2(a) (Brown Act) by three members of the Taft City Council. The investigation was conducted pursuant to California Penal Code §919(c) and §925a.
The Committee examined a letter bearing the apparent signatures of three members of the Taft City Council dated March 31, 2010, and written on Taft City letterhead stationery. The letter was addressed to a fourth member of the Council demanding the Councilperson’s silence on certain matters and included a space for signature of acknowledgement. The Committee consulted with the office of County Counsel of Kern County.
The 2009-2010 Kern County Grand Jury released a report entitled CITY OF TAFT EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS on February 9, 2010, which noted a three to two division within the Taft City Council. Since the report much divisiveness has been noted in City Council Meetings.
The Brown Act prohibits certain acts by a quorum of any governmental agency absent the act being placed on the agenda of a regular or special meeting and a vote taken in a public forum. Brown Act §54952.2(a) states, “A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.” Of significance, finding number 31 of the February report noted an alleged violation of the same Brown Act section.
Three members of the Taft City Council apparently wrote and signed, on City of Taft letterhead stationery, a letter making demands of a fourth Councilperson with space for signature of acknowledgement. The investigation revealed no evidence of the letter ever being an agenda item of a Taft City Council meeting or discussed in an open session of a Taft City Council meeting.
The letter is prima facie evidence of a Brown Act violation.
The reply by the City of Taft to the February 9, 2010, report cited above in PROCESS states all members of the City Council had received, “specific training on the Brown Act on January 20, 2009.”
A majority of a city council can make decisions and exercise power but must do so openly and in accordance with law. An attempt to silence an elected official has the effect of disenfranchising the people. The apparent actions of the three Councilpersons have violated the Brown Act and the interest of the people of Taft. The three can not plead ignorance of the Brown Act as the reply cited in finding four contains the signature of each individual. The Three Council members have been proposing the censure of a member of the Council for unproven perceived improprieties all the while violating the Brown Act.
The three members being investigated in the present report seem to be pursuing a vendetta against the other two members and have lost sight of the true role of a Council member (i.e., representing the citizens and the interests of the City of Taft). All members of the City Council must lay aside personal differences and return solely to the business of representing the citizens and governing the City of Taft in accordance with all laws and regulations.
The three Council members should conform to all sections of the Brown Act and cease all illegal acts. Additionally, the three should attend a retraining class on the Brown Act immediately.
Within 30 days of release, the City Council should put on the agenda of a regular scheduled meeting the contents of the present report for the sole purpose of soliciting comments from the citizens of Taft on what actions to take to resolve the issues raised in the present report.
The City of Taft should post a copy of this report where it will be available for public review.
Note: Present and past Kern County Grand Jury Final Reports and Responses can be accessed through the Kern County Law Library and on Kern County Grand Jury website: www.co.kern.ca.us/grandjury
Persons wishing to receive an email notification of newly released reports may sign up at www.co.kern.ca.us/grandjury, click on: Sign up for early releases.
RESPONSE REQUIRED WITHIN 60 DAYS TO:
KERN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
1415 TRUXTUN AVENUE 2ND FLOOR
BAKERSFIELD, CA 93301
KERN COUNTY GRAND JURY
1415 TRUXTUN AVENUE, SUITE 600
BAKERSFIELD, CA 93301