Tuesday, December 1 , 2015, 7:42 pm | Fair 55º

Ron Fink: Will DA Prosecute Alleged Open Meeting Law Violations in Lompoc?

By Ron Fink |

There has been a lot of concern about alleged violations of the open meetings laws in Lompoc — so much, in fact, that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is in the process of conducting a formal investigation.

Several months ago, Lompoc Mayor John Linn spoke in favor of a private recreational facility that is outside the city limits and is owned and operated by friend and confidant Jim Mosby during a Board of Supervisors hearing on an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to deny the project.

What is most concerning is how he represented himself. After being introduced as the mayor of Lompoc and while wearing his official city nameplate, he gave the impression that he represented an official position of the City of Lompoc; in fact, the mayor said “all the council members are here” — when only two were — and then indirectly implied that the City Council had agreed to support the project.

But the council had never discussed the project publicly — a fact the city attorney confirmed in writing in a letter responding to a request from the District Attorney’s Office. So, if they had agreed out of public view, it would have been a violation of open meeting laws.

In a declaration he made during a council meeting on April 1 concerning the playing fields, he stipulated that “all of the sports fields in Lompoc are committed to existing programs. The organizations using Mosby fields will not be able to reserve space on city fields.” When one council member questioned the veracity of this statement, the mayor attested to its truthfulness.

A check with parks and recreation officials proved this to be false and misleading — playing time on city fields was available then and still is today.

So, in the process of supporting the project, Linn threw the city’s image under the bus and made at least two misstatements of facts.

Our mayor has a way of either bending the facts to suit his arguments on issues or simply creating his own facts and attributing them to a mystery source who wishes to remain anonymous. In many cases, his self-produced facts have later been found to be inaccurate and/or blatant misrepresentations like the examples cited here.

The question that the DA is looking into is, have there been any violations of the state’s open meeting law (Ralph M. Brown Act)? The act mandates open public meetings to “transact business under the body’s jurisdiction.” The Mosby project is located outside the jurisdiction of Lompoc, but providing an official city opinion would seem to need public discussion.

It appears that decisions were previously made concerning the provision of city resources (restroom, road access and drinking water) at no cost to Mosby without any public discussion. When, how, where and who made these decisions is unclear.

One thing is certain: There is no record of a public discussion of the deal. It may have been made in closed session, but closed sessions are normally limited to employee actions, pending litigation, labor and real property negotiations. So it would be odd for such a deal to be struck during a closed session. After a local newspaper checked of two previous years worth of council agendas, it reported that there was never any closed session item listed concerning the Mosby property.

The city attorney’s response to the DA’s straightforward questions is known in the boxing world as “rope-a-dope.” For example, instead of answering the question, “What was the process for determining the City Council’s position on the project?,” his response was to explain how the council handles actions taken during closed sessions and that all actions were reported to the public as required by law.

To me this looks a bit unresponsive, but maybe that’s how attorneys talk to one another. If one of our children answered the question “Did you clean up your room?” by saying, “I have a room and I was in there today,” you probably wouldn’t accept that answer. I hope the DA doesn’t either.

Alleged Brown Act violations can be based on perception, and nothing in the act prohibits an elected official from speaking on issues as a private citizen. In this case, the perception of a violation was created by the mayor when he said he represented a consensus of the council when the council apparently had never publicly discussed this issue.

Public perception sometimes outweighs a literal interpretation of the Brown Act.

Will the DA prosecute this case? Brown Act cases are hard to prove, and the city attorney’s response muddles the facts. But there may be enough here to point to a pattern of decisions being made behind closed doors. Maybe it’s time to pin some people down under oath.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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