Small Town Politics and Secrecy by Some Abound in Ferndale
From the February 14 print edition of The Ferndale Enterprise, reported by Editor Caroline Titus:
Meanwhile, at a February 5 meeting of the board’s new ad hoc committee — charged with finding an interim fair manager and permanent fair manager after an 11-8 vote on January 28 not to renew 22-year fair manager Stuart Titus’ contract — it was announced that the board had
hired former Humboldt County Chief Administrative
Officer Loretta Nicklaus as its interim manager.
However, on Friday, committee member Johanna Rodoni said that Nicklaus had declined the job.
Board member (Jeff) Farley made the announcement at the beginning of the ad hoc meeting (on Monday, February 11). The meeting, held at the fairgrounds, was not open to the public and is not governed by the state’s open meeting laws. A temporary advisory committee composed of less than a quorum of a legislative body that serves a limited or single purpose and will be dissolved once a specific task is complete, is not subject to the Brown Act.
Farley had notified KIEM News Channel 3 in an advance telephone call that the meeting was not open to the public, according to reporter Kelly May. He informed The (Ferndale) Enterprise’s reporter at the beginning of the meeting
that it was closed, asked the reporter to leave, and handed out a document
signed by him as “acting secretary of the board.”
Under public comment, Ferndale resident John Maxwell spoke. He clarified that he was also a member of several public agencies, including the Ferndale City Council, but that his comments were being made as a public citizen. Maxwell said after attending the fair board’s special meeting the prior week, he felt that the board was “unprepared” for changes in leadership and recruitment of a new manager.
“This board should have countered Mr. Titus’ with
a one-year contract,” Maxwell said. “It would have been a lot cleaner in the end. “There’s a lot of bells you can’t unring,” he said, urging the board to operate with “professionalism and transparency.”
“Additionally, I hope this board can act with recognition of all aspects of the Brown Act,” he said, adding that he hopes that members consider whether it is in the best interest of the board to have the “venom and vitriol created in this room spill over into other public agency
Maxwell was referring to fair board members’ behavior at recent Ferndale City Council meetings. Maxwell said “by fair time” he hopes that “all the wounds have healed” and that a recognition of Titus’ 22 years receives unanimous support from the board.
Before the board began discussion of the one agenda item — that of approving the nominating committee’s actions — board member Dave Mogni said he wanted to discuss appointing a board member to a volunteer position to supervise the fair’s office staff since Titus was on vacation until the end of his contract, February 28.
Rodoni said that since the issue was not on the agenda, per the Brown Act, it could not be discussed or action taken. Mogni noted that the issue was perhaps an “emergency” situation. Renner, now leading the meeting, said the issue would have to be noticed at least 24 hours ahead of time. Mogni told Renner he wanted to “come back” to the issue after the meeting’s agendized item was taken care of.
After votes were taken on officer succession, Mogni brought up
the issue again with board members discussing who should be in charge of office staff if Titus is unavailable. Board members reached a consensus after discussion that Renner as interim board president should be available if Titus is not. Titus, in an email to board members, said that while he is taking earned vacation leave, he is available to office staff and will continue signing checks.
Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said on Wednesday that the fair board discussing an item not on the agenda and reaching a consensus was “one of the most common and in my perspective, egregious violations of the Brown Act.
“The reason I say most egregious is that it is the intent of the Brown Act to allow the public to be informed of potential actions and items and give them the opportunity to weigh in,” said Ewert. “The benchmark on that is giving a notice to the public of what the body is going to do. If the board, in this case, decides to take up items not on the agenda, discuss and deliberate and act on them, it is a brazen patronizing contempt of the public.”
At a April 30, 2012 executive committee meeting of the board, board member Olsen told General Manager Titus that he was to stop reminding the board of the Brown Act or it could “cost him votes” when it came time for his contract renewal.
Olsen also told Titus that he was to make sure board members “did not look bad” in this newspaper, owned and operated by Titus’ wife and to stop electronically recording board meetings — or he could lose votes.
A review of several years’ worth of board minutes by The Enterprise reported on in last week’s edition, shows multiple alleged violations of the state’s open meeting law.
The board’s regular monthly meeting is schedule for Monday, February 25, at 7 pm at the fairgrounds.
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Disclosure: Enterprise owner and editor Caroline Titus is married to Humboldt County Fair General Manager Stuart Titus.
The above article has been abridged. You can read the full article by Ms. Titus in The Ferndale Enterprise here.
Better yet, pick up a print edition. We appreciate the Tituses advocating for transparency and openess, following the Brown Act and the law, and simply doing the right and honest thing.