Public release of consultant draft report sparks controversy
Last week's board meeting of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Agency became a dance around what is proper public meeting procedure as chairman Roger Gitlin openly chastised authority staff for providing agenda attachments to the public, a legal requirement under the Brown Act, California's open meeting law for local government agencies.
When R3 Consulting Group, which was hired by the authority to assess the agency, sent a draft report to the authority, the authority's acting director Tedd Ward created a staff report including recommendations to the board, as is common with agenda items.
Then, as the authority has done for months, Ward posted his staff report along with the rest of the agenda attachments on the agency's website, a prudent transparency action since members of the public had requested the documents, and the Brown Act states:
"Agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act ... and shall be made available upon request without delay."
Gitlin, who also serves on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, started Wednesday's meeting by saying that the agenda item dealing with R3's draft report "will be
acknowledged and received but no discussion at this time as it is a preliminary report and incomplete."
Members of the public and Crescent City Councilman and Solid Waste board member Rick Holley questioned the legitimacy of Gitlin's suggestion that the report be accepted without public comment or board discussion.
Gitlin said that the board was prepared to discuss the draft report, but "I received a phone call from the R3 consultants advising me not to."
Gitlin said it was "inappropriate" for Ward to make the draft report and analysis public documents by placing them on the authority's website, even though the Brown Act says that anything distributed to board members of a public agency is a public document.
Ward's staff recommendation was that the board "make a finding that the draft as submitted is incomplete and additional work is needed to bring this document to the level of detail expected for draft report of this nature."
Ward's report acknowledges that R3 "had a very short period of time to complete the depth of analysis requested by the authority" and that R3 should be given another opportunity to submit a complete draft report.
The staff report regarding R3's draft analysis included a report from solid waste authority treasurer Richard Taylor, which said that R3's recommendationsviolated the accounting standards for public agency.
In a letter to R3 responding to the draft report and included in the agenda attachments, Martha Rice, the authority's legal counsel, questioned if all of R3's recommendations were legal, including contracting out the scale house staffing to the private sector.
When the Triplicate asked William Schoen, a principal of R3 Consulting Group, why R3 had called Gitlin and asked him not to discuss the report publicly, Schoen hung up after saying "you need to speak with the authority."Further phone calls were not returned.
When Holley asked Ward about being in contact with R3 for an upcoming draft, Ward responded: "Chair Gitlin has specifically said I should not have conversations with R3 without his permission."
Gitlin clarified his stance, "I'll correct that and say the authority's permission."
The situation was summarized best by local resident Elizabeth Henry during a public comment period:
"What I think happened is R3 saw the comments and knew what a bad job they've done.They've done a bad job and they want to pull it back and they want to fix it."
The online video of the March 12 Solid Waste meeting was removed from the county's archive of public meeting videos as of Monday's press time.
Web update: The video was restored to the county's video website on the day of publication.
Reach Adam Spencer firstname.lastname@example.org.