In 1953, Assemblyman Ralph Brown sought to return the business of government to the perusal of the people. The Brown Act was created to force every molecule within the light of democracy to shine on the business of legislative bodies, city council and public commissions. When it is flouted, the confidence of the people within the levers of powers becomes sullied, whether any wrongdoing occurred or not.
A simple reading of the Brown Act regarding special meetings clearly shows the controversial Sept. 3 meeting of the Eden Township Healthcare District Board of Directors was illegal. Here's a rundown of the law and the actions that followed that night:
- Under the Act, the presiding officer or a majority of the body may call a special meeting - YES. Eden Township CEO Dev Mahadevan called the special meeting.
- Notice of a special meeting must be provided 24 hours in advance of the meeting to all the legislative body members and to all media outlets who have requested notification. YES. By most accounts, the Eden Township Board posted the agenda for the special meeting just hours before the time frame allowed the Act.
- The notice also must be posted at least 24 hours prior to the meeting in a location freely accessible to the public. YES - Again, notice was posted in a timely matter and the meeting was scheduled to be held at the Eden Medical Center Board Conference Room.
- The notice should indicate that the meeting is being called as a special meeting, and shall state the time, place and business to be transacted at the meeting. YES - The posted agenda does indicate a special meeting and includes a date, time and place. Listed under agenda item #2 is "Executive Session: Conference with legal counsel re: anticipated litigation: Sutter Health exercise of purchase option under San Leandro Hospital Amended Lease and Hospital Operations Agreement (Government Code Sec. 54956.9(b))"
- At every special meeting, the legislative body shall provide the public with an opportunity to address the body on an item described in the notice before or during consideration of that item. The special meeting notice shall describe the public's rights to so comment. NO - This is the crux of the violation. While the agenda notice describes how an audience member may address the board by receiving recognition from the Chair, the notice also clearly states "NO PUBLIC SESSION."
A complaint must be filed within 30 days of the possible violation. As of today, we are halfway through that period. State Senator Ellen Corbett's office voiced concern that night over what transpired and a few San Leandro council members angrily charged the Distict with a violation of the Brown Act, as did representatives from the California Nurses Association; yet nothing has been done.
As a First Amendment issue, conducting government business under the cloak of deception is a very scary proposition. During the last two District meetings, The Citizen has been provoked by the questioning of using an audio recording device to cover meetings. The use of video recorders has also been questioned by representatives from Sutter Health.
Conducting government business in secret is unfortunately quite common. Within just the past month, various government bodies in Long Beach, Clearlake, Gilroy, Los Angeles and San Diego County have been accused of violating the Brown Act. In Alameda County, the recent quick hire of a district attorney to replace retiring Tom Orloff without any public scrutiny also has raised the ire of many who support open government.
Whether significant action was taken Sept. 3 is not the point, but it continues a rather long line of deliberate obfuscation by Sutter Health and its surrogates on the District board. Many believe the City of San Leandro and Alameda County face the very real possibility of losing San Leandro Hospital because of a string of similar secret meetings in the past. The public is no longer naive to this tactic and The Citizen on behalf of the community is calling for state Sen. Corbett to file a specific complaint calling for the District to reveal what was discussed Sept. 3 and demand that these clandestine meeting cease immediately. Not only do we need to maintain the physical and mental health of our community, but we also must care for our delicate democracy at the same time.
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