Wood questions jury
To The Editor,
I have reviewed the Mono County Grand Jury 2013-14 report concerning the proposed Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), which identifies issues arising out of Town Council closed sessions.
While the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations should be the subject of current Town Council discussion, I find fault with the report in three distinct areas.
First, the report addresses closed session discussions about solid waste disposal, including Council negotiations for the purchase of a site for a MRF, over a period of 8 years, from 2006 through 2014. During that time, there were 4 distinct Town Councils, with separate and different members. However, the report chastises “Council as a whole” without identifying which Council or Councils the Grand Jury complains of.
The Town Council is not a monolithic body.
Each Town Council consists of 5 separate individuals with 5 different views and multiple constituencies, and whose membership changes every 2 years. It is unfair to blame “Council as a whole” for alleged violations of the Brown Act without being specific as to time and the nature of alleged violations.
Second, the Grand Jury concludes that it was unable to obtain much information of substance from most Town Council members. I served on the Town Council from 2010-2014. I explained to the investigating committee that because I was the lawyer for 2 parties who would be impacted by a decision to purchase land for the MRF, I had a conflict. Therefore, I did not participate in any Town Council MRF discussions. I declared my conflict, recused myself, and never spoke to other Council members, staff, my clients, or the public about MRF issues during my entire tenure.
Unfortunately, that fact did not appear, even as a footnote, in the Grand Jury’s report. Instead, it incriminated the “Council as a whole.”
Third, the Grand Jury is charged with investigating complaints from individuals. The foundation of its credibility is its lack of bias. In the case of the Town Council investigation, the Grand Jury received 2 complaints that the Council did not conduct its MRF negotiations in public, in violation of the Brown Act. The members of the Grand Jury subcommittee included individuals who have a demonstrated history of opposing virtually everything Town Councils have done for a decade or more.
Why would the Grand Jury place members who are openly hostile to Town government on a subcommittee to conduct an investigation of the Town? I submit that the subcommittee was overtly biased, and that 2 of its members had a motive to reach the conclusions presented in the report. My impression when I was interviewed by the subcommittee is that it had reached a conclusion long before any Council members were interviewed. In considering the weight to be given to the report, the credibility of the Grand Jury should be taken into account.
Finally, the Brown Act specifically recognizes that certain matters should and could be considered in closed session. It is impractical for a Council to negotiate the purchase of real property in public. It is impossible to have frank discussions about litigation other than in private. In other words, the public is best served by allowing Council to discuss, debate and decide certain adversarial matters privately, and that is why the law allows it.
In my years on Council, I found that the Town attorney always presided over the decision as to what could and could not be discussed behind closed doors. I do not know what occurred regarding the MRF. However, based on my own experience, and now as a member of the public, I give the various Councils and Council members the benefit of doubt. I have never known even one member who has not been well-intentioned, or who has deliberately violated the Act.
The public part of the public’s business is open and transparent. The matters allowed to be discussed privately should be discussed privately, and any action taken must be announced publicly. That meets the test of transparency and disclosure.
Thanks to friends, family
I would like to extend my sincere thank you to the many people of our community who helped me with BZ’s memorial.
First to Rusty Gregory and Mary Walker for providing June Mountain and all that we needed to hold BZ’s celebration of life. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. June Mountain was the perfect spot for all of us to gather.
To Carl and Abi and staff, thank you for working so hard for us. You made it so easy for BZ’s friends. You gave us all peace of mind knowing that you were willing to take this huge job of hosting the memorial into your very capable hands. The job you and your staff did was so impressive. I appreciated all your hard work.
To the June Lake Women’s Club for your generous support and love. To the June Lake Fire Department, we appreciated the shade, the drinks, the presentation of your vehicles and American flags. It was an impressive show of respect and honor for BZ.
To the June Lake Community, the outpouring of your love, prayers, and concern for our family has gotten us through this difficult time. The food you provided all week and for the celebration was so delicious and generous and very much appreciated.
To all the friends who came by the house, the calls, the cards, and those who came to the memorial, you showed such love for our family and such love and honor for BZ. We will never forget this outpouring. It was incredible.
To our family and friends who stepped up and blessed us with your talents, your time, your love and support, you are amazing. To pull this celebration of BZ’s life off in one week from BZ’s passing was nothing short of miraculous. I am honored to call you my friends. I am blessed to have you as my family.