SANTA ANA — The Orange County District Attorney on Tuesday released a “Revised” report in its review of the alleged violations of the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law by the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees. In May, the Orange County District Attorney’s office issued a terse letter notifying the district of “Violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.”
In early 2011, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) received complaints against the Board of Trustees (Board) of the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD). One was from an attorney for two members of the governing board of trustees. The complaints alleged that the Board had violated the open meeting and agenda requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Govt. Code § 54950 et seq.) As a result of inquiry into these complaints, the OCDA issued a notice to CUSD indicating that violations of the Brown Act had been found in three meetings conducted by the Board. Those meetings occurred on Dec. 13, 2010, Jan. 26, 2011, and March 16, 2011. CUSD responded with a request to provide the OCDA with additional information that could affect these findings and asked that particular attention be made to the Dec. 7, 2010 meeting which had not been a subject of the previous findings. The OCDA agreed to conduct additional inquiry.
All members of the Board, as well as executive management, gave recorded statements regarding the subject of the inquiry including matters that were discussed in closed session. As a result of this additional information, the OCDA’s initial findings have been modified. Although an appearance of violations of the Brown Act occurred, the evidence developed has not been sufficient to establish their actual occurrence. Accordingly, the OCDA is issuing this public report detailing the results of the inquiry in lieu of any further action on the matter.
The report reversed the May findings that violations of the Brown Act had indeed occurred. The report concluded:
Ultimately, this case illustrates that the avoidance of the appearance of impropriety is just as vital as the avoidance of its reality. Public confidence in government is adversely affected by both. Whenever there is official secrecy, behind closed door meetings, or attempts to avoid public attention, suspicion of wrongdoing will invariably arise. Once it arises it is most difficult to dispel. Responding with political theatre, disdainful condescension, or procedures where the appearance is one of predetermined decisions are not likely to dispel that suspicion. Elected officials may then discover their jobs have become far more frustrating than would have been the case had they openly embraced the “active and critical” participation of the public they’re elected to serve.
The full report can be found here.