Friends of the Van Duzen River
A Grass Roots community organization comprised of residents and visitors to the Van Duzen Region. We are Dedicated to helping to restore the river for future Generations

Much Ado about Plenty
(Times Standard) 02/04/2005

Much ado about plenty

February 4, 2005

The Times-Standard

It would be a mistake for our five county supervisors to blow off this community's outcry over their decision last week to skirt California's public meeting laws.
More than 50 people took time out of their day Tuesday afternoon to attend the Board of Supervisors' public comment period.

More than 25 got up to speak. And all of them expressed dismay over the supervisors' 3-1 decision the previous week to send a letter on behalf of Pacific Lumber Co. urging a state agency to speed up its processing of Palco's timber harvest plans.

The board made this decision outside of normal procedures clearly stated in the Ralph M. Brown Act, raising the question of whether Palco duped the supervisors into violating the tenets established in this hallowed piece of legislation adopted more than 50 years ago to keep politics out of back rooms.

Once this letter was sent, the action couldn't be undone.

But this fact didn't stop dozens of people from showing up a week later, turning what is normally a five or 10 minute spot on the agenda into an hour-and-a-half marathon complaint session.

These people came from all over the county. They included the usual Palco foes. But those who spoke represented a broad section of the social strata in Humboldt County.

And all of them were upset at the board for its handling of the Palco letter.
Only one person -- Palco's own assistant government relations manager -- spoke in defense of the letter and how its adoption was accomplished. To hear any supervisor dismiss this overwhelming public expression of dissatisfaction as "much ado about nothing" is troubling, to say the least.

The supervisors and their legal adviser, the county counsel, have been quick to defend themselves against charges they violated the Brown Act. But their self-serving argument leaks like a sieve. The Brown Act mandates that government bodies publish their agendas at least 72 hours before each meeting, with some exceptions.

One of these exceptions is if the board becomes aware of the need to take action on an item after the agenda is published.
The supervisors argue that because Palco didn't bring the need to send this letter to their attention until the last moment, their action -- adding the item to their agenda the day of the meeting without public notification then approving it -- is legal.

But it turns out that Palco knew about the need weeks in advance, and that the need to send the letter was not urgent.

If the supervisors allow this as an excuse to get around the Brown Act, it means that anybody who wants a favor from the board -- but would rather avoid public scrutiny -- can just wait until the night before a meeting before bringing it to a supervisor for action. No questions asked. We expect better from our current county supervisors, who for the most part have proven themselves to be capable and ethical public trustees.

Let's hope this collective letdown in logical thinking on their part is just a one-time event.

Friends of the Van Duzen River
PO Box 315
Carlotta, CA 95528
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