By Linda Sutter – September 6, 2022
The Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority received a letter from the First Amendment Coalition regarding their lack of compliance with the Brown Act as well as the Board members inability to allow uninterrupted speech.
Here is a copy of the letter sent to the Tri-Agency Board Members on September 6, 2022.
“September 6, 2022
VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL
Darrin Short (email@example.com)
Chris Howard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Blake Inscore (email@example.com)
Jason Greenough (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wes White (email@example.com)
Brian Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority 981 H Street, Suite 220 Crescent City, CA 95531
Re: Brown Act
Dear Board Members:
The First Amendment Coalition (“FAC”) is a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs. I am writing on behalf of FAC to inquire into Brown Act compliance by the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority (“Tri-Agency”). I understand Tri-Agency is a joint powers agency organized under the Joint Exercise of Powers Act, Govt. Code § 6500 et seq., and governed by a board made up of two members from each of its three member agencies, the Crescent City Harbor District, City of Crescent City, and County of Del Norte. As a joint powers agency, Tri-Agency is subject to the Brown Act. McKeev. Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force, 134 Cal. App.4th 354, 358–62 (2005).
I do not see that Tri-Agency has a functioning website. Please confirm the website, if any, and physical “location that is freely accessible to members of the public” where Tri-Agency posts its meeting agenda “[a]t least 72 hours before a regular meeting.” Govt. Code § 54954.2(a)(1).
I understand the Tri-Agency board may have held a meeting on August 25, 2022, at which it may have discussed public business and taken action without an agenda. If so, the discussion and action may have violated the Brown Act. “No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda,” with limited exceptions. Govt. Code § 54954.2(a)(3).
At the same meeting, I understand the board may have voted on matters without a roll call or minutes. If so, those practices may have violated the Brown Act, which requires that the “legislative body of a local agency shall publicly report any action taken and the vote or abstention on that action for each member present for the action.” Govt. code 54953(c)(2).
I also understand one or both board members may have interrupted a person giving public comment within the allotted time with one of the members loudly accusing the commenter of being a liar and misinforming the public. If so, those actions present significant concerns under the Brown Act, which guarantees “an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any body of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.” Govt. Code §54954.3(a).
This provision guarantees “that for each agenda of a regular meeting, there must be a period of time provided for general public comment on any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, as well as an opportunity for public comment on each specific agenda item, as it is taken up by the body.” Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility Dist., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1063, 1079 (2008). As long as “public comments are within the parameters described in section 54954.3” The Brown Act does not, “allow a legislative body to prohibit a member of the public from making public comments at the appropriate time during a public meeting.” Id.
Whatever personal views of the board members, which may be expressed at a different time, “[t]he legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body.” Govt. Code §54954.3(c) The First Amendment also guarantees that “a speaker may not be stopped from speaking” because of their viewpoint. White v. City of Norwalk, 900 F. 2d, 1421, 1425 (9th Cir. 1990).
Please confirm that the Tri-Agency will conform to the Brown Act by properly posting agendas in advance of its meetings, confining its actions and discussions to matters on the agenda except as otherwise allowed, and recording and reporting roll call votes. Please also confirm that the Tri-Agency will comply with the Brown Act Provisions and First Amendment case law governing the right to public comment. Thank you for your attention to these matters.
Signed by David Loy, Legal Director
Copies sent to DA Katie Micks and County Counsel, Joel Campbell”
It should be noted that the Tri-Agency could not provide meeting minutes for several months in 2018, 2020, and 2021. Nor could the Tri-Agency provide all of the bank statements from 2018 to current.
The USDA wants the Tri-Agency to dissolve because the Tri-Agency has been in default since 2018 of making any payments to the USDA. The Tri-Agency did dissolve according to the United States Department of Commerce in April 2018 and gave the remainder of the USDA award to the Del Norte Economic Development Corporation which is currently under investigation.
Chris Howard and Darrin Short have been constantly insisting on the residents of Del Norte County to use public money to bail out this failed Tri-Agency. The Tri-Agency is supposed to arrange a three agency meeting where 15 board members will discuss the fate of the Tri-Agency. In the meantime, The Tri-Agency bank account dwindles each month because of fees associated with the Tri-Agency instead of paying back the $288,000.00 to USDA.