County reviews complaint about notice of water board nomination

SCV Water Agency logo. Courtesy
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The nomination of former 38th District Assemblyman Dante Acosta to the SCV Water Agency board of directors has hit a snag, as it is now being reviewed by the county’s Public Integrity Division as an alleged violation of the state’s Brown Act by the agency’s agenda-setters.

Stacy Fortner, who twice ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board of the Castaic Lake Water Agency — the SCV Water Agency’s predecessor — filed a complaint Monday with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, alleging the agenda item dealing with Acosta’s nomination was incomplete for not having mentioned him by name.

An attorney representing SCV Water said the agency was not informed — officially — about the nomination of Acosta by the county until Monday, even though the news was reported in The Signal on Thursday.

“We did not receive official notice of the appointment from the county until today,” attorney Tom Bunn said late Monday afternoon. “Because we did not want to prepare an agenda item based on third-party sources, we provided ‘a brief general description,’ as allowed by the same Brown Act section referenced by Ms. Fortner.”

Agenda item

Fortner’s concern pertained to agenda item 5.1 of Tuesday’s board meeting. The board meeting is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouquet Canyon Road, overlooking Central Park.

As she described in her letter to the DA: “On or about Dec. 12, 2018, your agency mailed and posted the agenda for the Dec. 18 meeting in which one important agenda item, No. 5 (including No. 5.1) was incompletely described.

“The purpose of the Brown Act is as stated above, to ensure public transparency,” her letter said. “While the agency’s general description of this agenda item allowed the public to know that the issue would be discussed, your agency apparently purposely and knowingly kept the name of the nominee off the agenda even though your agency was fully aware of who that nominee would be because the Board of Supervisors had approved his nomination at (its) meeting on the morning of Dec. 11.

“As this nominee was recently voted out of office by a majority of the people in the Santa Clarita Valley who did not want him to represent us in the Legislature, I and many others believe that this known and important information was intentionally kept off your agenda in an effort to keep the information from the public.”

 

Public’s right

The Ralph M. Brown Act was passed by the California State Legislature in 1953 guaranteeing the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.

The act also lays out how meetings should be made public and offers guidelines on the content of board meeting agendas.

Fortner’s complaint is now in the hands of the L.A. County Public Integrity Division.

“We have received the complaint and it will be reviewed by our Public Integrity Division,”  Shiara Davila-Morales, spokeswoman for the DA, said Monday.

 

Agency response

Bunn described the agency’s agenda-setting process in detail in a letter to Fortner Monday.

“Dear Ms. Fortner: This is in response to your letter of today’s date, alleging a Brown Act violation,” Bunn’s response said. “Dean Efstathiou’s term as the appointed director expires Jan. 1. When the agenda for the Dec. 18 meeting was prepared, the county had not yet selected its nominee.

“In order to preserve the board’s ability to appoint a new director in case we received a nomination, we put the item on the agenda as a placeholder, so that there would be no lapse in representation,” the response said. “We did not receive notice from the county of its nominee until today. We did read about the appointment in The Signal, but did not feel that we should base the agenda item on that unverified report.”

Bunn quoted that section of the Brown Act named by Fortner as requiring: “a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting.”

“Our agenda satisfied that requirement,” his response said. “As you pointed out in your letter, the agenda item allowed the public to know the issue would be discussed, and to come to the meeting if they wished to participate. It is therefore my opinion that there was no violation of the Brown Act.”

 

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