Thursday, December 21, 2006
Airport board tangles with the Brown Act again
By BRIAN CHARLES and JUDI BOWERS
The Big Bear (CA) Grizzly
The Big Bear Airport board has rescheduled another meeting. First a Nov. 20 special meeting was canceled. Then the regular Dec. 6 meeting was canceled. Then a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 15 was canceled. The board is going to try again Thursday, Dec. 21, to meet at 2 p.m. The board is trying to appoint someone to fill Bob McNutt’s seat. McNutt, who was board president, died in a plane crash Nov. 14. The airport district can appoint someone to fill his seat or call a special election. The appointment must be made within a specified time under California Government Code or the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors will make the appointment.
The special meeting Dec. 15 listed on its agenda a report from an ad hoc committee and appointment of a board member. However, after The Grizzly started asking questions, it was discovered the agenda wasn’t posted properly. Under the Brown Act, agendas must be posted at the location where the meeting is to be held, in this case the Big Bear City Community Services District board room. No agenda was posted, The Grizzly discovered.
Holding the meeting would have violated the Brown Act, so General Manager Garry Dokter canceled the meeting to avoid the violation.
Dodging one Brown Act bullet, the airport board’s actions are still in question due to the ad hoc committee, which was formed Nov. 20 without the benefit of a full board. The ad hoc committee was formed by board vice president Russ Lowery, who was out of state at the time. The Nov. 20 meeting was canceled when The Grizzly informed Dokter and board members Jay Obernolte and Butch Waymire that holding a teleconference with Lowery would violate the Brown Act. Director George Berge was not present. Under the Act, holding a meeting with one member joining via teleconference requires a quorum to be present within the jurisdiction of the district. Without Berge, there was no quorum.
While the Nov. 20 meeting was canceled Obernolte and Waymire were appointed to the ad hoc committee via a telephone call following the canceled meeting. Obernolte said the phone call took place in Dokter’s office with the airport board attorney Betsy Martyn present. Obernolte said he felt Lowery’s formation of the committee was appropriate and Lowery had consulted with Martyn to make sure it was legal.
According to Tom Newton, California Newspaper Publishers Association attorney, the action to form the committee needed to take place in open session with the full board, otherwise the committee has no authority to act.
The Big Bear City Airport Board of Directors Policy Manual also requires the board to create standing or ad hoc committees. Section 4060.42 of the manual states: “The Board may create Standing or Ad Hoc committees at its discretion. Unless the authority to perform a duty is expressly delegated by the board to a committee, committee motions and recommendations shall be advisory to the board and not commit the district to any policy, act or expenditure.”
Obernolte said the purpose of the ad hoc committee was to sort through the applications and narrow the field in the event the airport received too many applications to review at a board meeting. Since only four applications were received, the committee didn’t need to meet, Obernolte said.
Under the Brown Act, which is part of the California Government Code, interviews and selection of a person to fill a board vacancy must be done in open session before the public.
The airport district’s trouble didn’t stop there.
Dokter was instructed to post the vacant board position. The posting is subject to the rules of the California Government Code, according to Cathy Jackson of the Registrar of Voters office. Under the Code, the vacancy and request for applications must be posted in three conspicuous locations. The vacancy was posted in the airport lounge and an ad was placed in The Grizzly. Dokter said the posting in the lounge was sufficient. He based his finding on discussions with Martyn, he said.
The newspaper advertisement and the posting are identical and do not include a deadline for interested persons to apply for the board vacancy. Under the Government Code the posting must occur at least 15 days prior to the appointment. With no date for the appointment on the posting it is unclear when the applicants must submit their letters of interest to the board.
Kathy Jefferies, Big Bear Lake City Clerk, said when the city has a vacancy on the Planning Commission, a start and end date aren’t required. However, the city usually accepts applications for a four week period and includes a deadline and appointment date, she said.