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By Miriam Raftery

September 23, 2012 (San Diego)—Back in July, the state suspended the Ralph M. Brown Act.  As a result, cash-strapped cities and counties no longer have to provide agendas to the public prior to meetings--opening the door for a return to backroom actions without public scrutiny.  On July 24, Supervisors affirmed that they intended to continue following the Brown Act anyhow. 

But just two weeks later, Supervisors announced resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard—and named a replacement in the same meeting, with zero public notice. San Diegans for Open Government, which has sued the County for prior Brown Act violations,  sent a cure and correct letter to the County on August 14.

The County’s response?  County Counsel Ellen Pilsecker fired back a letter stating that there’s “no legal basis” for a lawsuit because the Brown Act “no longer exists.”  Clearly, voters can no longer count on open government in San Diego County--a fact confirmed by other recent troubling actions by Supervisors. 

The County’s lawyer further claimed that Supervisors wouldn’t have had to bother telling the public about the appointment, or giving the public a chance to air their opinions or propose alternative candidates, even if the Brown Act was in effect—insisting that such matters can legally be done in closed sessions.

Supervisors’ action brought a testy response from former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who posted a blistering comment on a story at UT San Diego. His remarks read in part:

“Unfortunately the quality of democracy and respect for open meeting law in San Diego County government is very low. While our troops are fighting to bring democracy elsewhere we have been losing democracy in San Diego County,” Aguirre wrote. “The special interests spread their money to entrenched Supervisors who in turn do the special interests' selfish bidding…. It is a pubic relations travesty for the County Board of Supervisors to say they will continue to honor the Brown Act, when they dishonor as a matter of routine and practice.”

Aguirre concluded, “ We need to awaken our County voters to the need for a whole new Board that will restore democracy and which will conduct San Diego County government openly with respect for the full participatory rights guaranteed under California's Direct Democracy form of government.”

Simon Mayeski, an activist with Common Cause, observed in a comment post that Supervisors “caql the decision an `emergency’ even though Eckard doesn’t leave office until Dec. 1.”

This is far from an isolated incident.

Last week, ECM editorialized against a County announcement that it no longer intends to publish public meeting agendas in print newspapers – ostensibly a move to save money at the expense of keeping the public in the dark about upcoming important actions. 

In August, San Diegans for Open Government sued the County for violating the Brown Act—even before it was eliminated by the State.   In that case, Supervisors hid information from the public about a developer-backed scheme to eliminate community planning groups.   The same group sued the County back in January for  failing to provide 72 hours notice before voting on key budget provisions, another Brown Act violation. 

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