Tulare County Board of Supervisors (TCBOS) has responded in a lengthy letter to The Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability’s claims that the the board violated the Brown Act and acted recklessly during a pandemic.
The organization’s letter to the board dated May 26 states, “the Board voted to proceed to Phase 3 of the reopening of the County during their May 19th meeting despite not meeting State requirements for doing so and despite not having followed state protocols for requesting variances from the state-wide shelter-in-place mandate. The Board of Supervisors took this action without consulting with public health officials, impacted communities, essential workers, or city governments.”
The letter further stated, “Additionally, and critically, this vote violated the Brown Act by taking action that exceeded the language on the posted agenda.”
The TCBOS had 30 days to “cure and correct” its violation of the Brown Act.
Three Rivers lawyer Sarah Shena also wrote the county “to call your attention to what I believe was a substantial violation of a central provision of the Ralph M Brown Act.” She additionally informed the county that it had 30 days to correct its actions.
Shena received no response.
The county denied violating the Brown Act in its June 2 letter to the Leadership Counsel.
“It is clear that the action was within the bounds of the agenda item as described in the Agenda Addendum and reflected in the Board Resolution No. 2020-0265, and the public had adequate notice of the agenda item.”
But during the May 19 meeting, County Counsel Deanne Peterson informed the supervisors that they were being asked to vote on a motion that was not on the agenda.
“I don’t think you have the authority to do that based on how the way this matter was agendized.”
Despite this, the county now claims that “the Board’s action was not intended as direction to County staff or the community to take actions in contravention of the State’s orders or State and Federal guidance on how best to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect individual and community health in this unprecedented time.”
The letter continued, “An agenda item requesting approval of a letter of support, submitted with a recommended text for the letter, such as the May 19, 2020 agenda item in question, does not bind a legislative body to the text as recommended. It would be within the legislative body’s discretion to adopt, modify, or reject the recommended text/action as the body deems appropriate and such action would clearly be proper under the Brown Act for the agenda item as listed.”
Blanca Escobeda, one of the signatories on the Leadership Counsel’s letter, said that the county’s response was, “definitely inadequate.”
“The county counsel gave the supervisors a clear warning that they were about to violate the Brown Act and Supervisor Valero warned them also.”
Escobedo was hoping that the county would take accountability for its violation of the Brown Act and “cure” it by rescinding the vote. She said the county could then re-agendize the item and give the public an opportunity to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.
The organization’s goal, said Escobedo, was to continue to hold the county accountable during the pandemic. She added that it was extremely important that the public gets to voice its opposition when the county discuses going against the state and the advice of public health experts.
Conversely the county contends, “We believe a court would easily find that an action approving the letter of support with a statement of ‘future intent’ meets this standard and thus there has been no violation of the Brown Act. With no violation, there is nothing about the May 19, 2020 action for the Board of Supervisors to cure and correct.”
The Leadership Counsel is deciding on its next steps.
Will Tulare and Kings Counties Have to Dial Back on their Bravado?
Tulare and Kings County Supervisors will be meeting July 7 to discuss whether to continue defying the state or to comply with the California State Department of Health in its latest shutdown orders.
As mentioned above, Tulare County voted May 19 to reopen. Kings County Board of Supervisors voted similarly on May 8. At that Kings County meeting some members called for reopening businesses even if state COVID-19 requirements weren’t met. Leading the charge was Chairman Jim Verboon, District 3, who said the state was living under a “dictatorship” under Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The two counties might reassess their position after California’s July 1 mandate. During his press conference, Newsom reminded local officials that $2.5 billion allocated to cities and counties is contingent on their enforcing the state orders.
According to The Nooner, “Newsom said that the state would be dispatching multi-agency strike teams consisting of staff from staff from such agencies as the California Highway Patrol, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Business Oversight, Cal/OSHA, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. The governor encouraged tips from workers and the public where non-implementation of state rules is observed.”
The TCBOS agenda packet states, “The Governor’s California State Budget for Fiscal Year 2020/21 includes an allocation of approximately 48.9 million to Tulare County for COVID-19 expenditures, impacts, mitigations, responses, and effects caused by the public health emergency. Tulare County anticipates to receive the allocated funding of 48.9 million by July 30th of 2020 and is required to certify and agree to conditions upon receipt of CARES Funding. Certification must be received by the California Department of Finance no later than 11:59 pm on July 10, 2020.”
Kings County faces a similar decision as the county will potentially lose approximately $15.6 million in CARES funding for eligible COVID-19 costs if it decides to defy the state.
The TCBOS agenda packet further states, “The County is also required to agree to do all of the following as conditions of receipt of funding: a. Adhere to federal guidance and the stat’s stay-at-home requirements as directed in gubernatorial Executive Order N-33-20, any subsequent Executive Orders or statutes, and all California Department of Public Health orders, directives and guidance in response to COVID -19 emergency.”