The following is my response to questions being asked (at candidate events and through social media) regarding my past and current requests for Board legal advice and the District Attorney’s involvement.
In the absence of having legal counsel at Napa Valley College Board meetings, there have been times when I have requested a legal opinion from the Board’s legal counsel in between Board meetings, and for good reason. I will describe a few examples.
On May 14, 2015, the college Board passed a resolution to sell a building on Menlo Avenue, using the public bidding process. After the meeting, I did my own research and found that the District had failed to take a step required by the Education Code before putting real property on the market: written notice to all local public entities, giving them an opportunity to purchase the building at fair market value. I pushed the college president to seek a legal opinion. In fact, at a special meeting on May 28, 2015, the Board had to rescind the May 14 resolution and pass a new resolution, starting over in order to comply with that legal requirement. The Napa Valley Unified School District ended up purchasing that building.
In addition, the Napa Valley College Board has had several Brown Act issues in the past few years—issues for which I requested assistance from the Board’s legal counsel, and when not resolved to my satisfaction, I went to the District Attorney’s office for resolution. In 2016, after realizing that the Board was discussing items in closed session that are not allowed according to the Brown Act (or “open meetings law”), I requested that the Board have a study session with our attorney on the Brown Act and closed session. When that did not happen, and the violations continued, I went to the District Attorney’s office. Following their investigation, the District Attorney sent a letter, putting the Board “on notice.” (See the attached letter.)
Unfortunately, the Brown Act issues did not end there. When an “ad hoc” (or temporary) committee called the "District Real Property Committee" was created at the January 12, 2017, Board meeting (Item 14.1), both Trustee Baker and I questioned (and on later occasions as well, e.g., July 13, 2017) whether this committee met the legal definition of a temporary committee, which does not have to be publicly noticed and open to the public; to us it appeared to meet the definition of a standing committee, which would be required to comply with open meetings law (Brown Act). After being unable to resolve this issue internally, I took the issue to the District Attorney. After the DA’s office began investigating, it was made a standing committee, and it held its first public meeting on May 7, 2018, a year and four months after it was created (hardly temporary). This committee has been exploring campus housing, moving the Wine Train operations on campus, and other topics of interest not only to the entire Board but also to the college community and general public.
At the regularly scheduled monthly Board meeting on October 12, 2017, there was another Brown Act issue created when the college forgot to publicly post the agenda 72 hours in advance as required by law. The college president and Board Chair then turned the meeting into an “emergency meeting,” citing the fires as an excuse. While there was an emergency going on at the time, the items on the meeting agenda did not meet the criteria for emergency status under the Brown Act and a reduction of notice to one hour and only to newspapers. (Note: The evacuation center had been open for several days, and the college was planning to close it.) After confirming that all of the items could wait at least 72 hours, I made a motion to postpone the meeting for 72 hours to give proper notice as is required by law, and Trustee Baker seconded my motion. When the motion failed, and the Board decided to proceed despite our concerns, we abstained on all items so as to not participate in a meeting that violated the Brown Act. In this case, another trustee asked the District Attorney’s office to look into the matter, which resulted in a phone conversation between that office and the Board’s legal counsel about preventing future issues.
Currently, with the Board being unwilling to allow Board legal counsel to look into other potential Brown Act issues, namely the new procedure for Board members to get items on the agenda, which requires discussion of items that are not on the agenda, and a concern about possible Brown Act violations in closed session at future Board meetings, I have asked the District Attorney to look into these issues as well. At this point, I am requesting that the DA’s office recommend that the Board’s closed session meetings be recorded in order to hold the Board more accountable, and so the DA’s office can ask to listen to them if there are issues raised in the future.
I was elected to bring more integrity, transparency, and accessibility to the Board, and all of these actions have been taken in an effort to uphold that promise and my responsibility as a trustee.
Given the multiple issues the Board has had related to the Brown Act, the numerous contracts the Board approves at every meeting, and the legal questions that regularly come up at Board meetings, on September 14, 2017, I proposed to have the Board’s attorney present at Board meetings and made a formal motion making this request. Unfortunately, this proposal lost by one vote. Opponents cited the monetary cost, even though we determined it would cost about $20,000 per year or .00051% of the college’s $40 million budget and less than the cost of dealing with just the threat of a single lawsuit. If I am re-elected, I will bring back this proposal at the most opportune time, in order to improve the functioning of the Board, provide protection that the law is being followed, and prevent costly lawsuits.
Napa Valley College Trustee, Area 2