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Our Opinion: Brown Act getting a black eye

January 25, 2005

Imperial County has made significant strides over the last decade. No longer can we consider ourselves the sleepy, insular community where crops are king.

We've grown in size and scope, from a mushrooming population predicted to double in less than 10 years to an area where the government employs as many as farming.

The change, for the most part, has been good. But if we want that positive change to continue, we need to cast off the last vestiges of the old guard, and that's the way some of our governmental bodies continue to conduct the people's business. By this, we mean the backroom dealings that continue to plague some boards, ranging from school districts to city councils. And mind you, it's not all, but it's some.

The Brown Act, California's open meetings law, was enacted to protect constituents from those in power making decisions out of the public eye. And while many boards, or their representatives will tell you they are in compliance with the Brown Act, that compliance is only technical in nature and a violation in spirit and intent.

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As a protracted stalemate between teachers and administrators continues at the Brawley Elementary School District, a several-years-old decision that gave former district administrators Howard Sullivan and Norma Kelley lifetime health benefits has come to light as one such example. While a school district official maintains the issue was addressed and decided in accordance with the Brown Act, by all indications it was a snow job that only adhered to the law in the most technical sense. It violated the spirit.

The Calexico Unified School District board has had its own dalliances with Brown Act violations in recent months, deciding on a contract issue for Superintendent David Alvarez, only to have that decision invalidated because the board failed to agendize the item properly.

One thing that keeps government accountable to the people is not just the election process but laws such as the Brown Act, which allows people to be fully informed of the goings-on of governmental bodies through full disclosure of actions taken at public meetings. It's just a matter of time before the public catches on to this "by the books" decision-making that is anything but.

It seems as though our bigger government boards in the Valley, such as the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and the Imperial Irrigation District, seem to be smarter about watching what they are doing. It's a bit more difficult for such high-profile entities to pass issues under the public's radar, but, boy, we know they try.

Fortunately, most Imperial Valley residents won't put up with such monkey business any longer and such shenanigans get stopped in their tracks. The public knows, just like we do, that such "old school" thinking is doing nothing to further the Imperial Valley. For those who will continue to try, the public is watching you, and so are we.

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