Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley listens to public comment at the March 10 LBCCD Board Meeting. Photo: Jason Ruiz
In a letter to the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees this week, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office informed the board that it is not in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. However, it noted that statements made by members of the board and its legal counsel at a March 10 meeting were “incorrect” and “must be addressed to to avoid potential violations in the future.”
The allegations stemmed from the board’s meeting in March, when it approved a raise and extension for Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley, with the bulk of the discussion happening in closed session.
Long Beach resident Chris Prevatt filed a complaint with the DA’s public integrity division in April. In the complaint, he claimed the board participated in “blatant” violations of the state’s transparency law by approving the contract without making it available for public review or discussion prior to the Board’s vote.
In the response letter, written by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey, comments made at the March 10 meeting by Trustee Doug Otto and the Board’s legal counsel, Spencer Covert, were singled out as opinions that could lead to potential future violations. At the meeting in question, while responding to Trustee Sunny Zia’s request to discuss the extension publicly, Covert said that because Oakley’s contract wasn’t a public works contract, it wasn’t subject to review before the Board’s vote. Otto added that the “general public is not party to those negotiations” and that once the contract was adopted “there would be plenty of opportunities to comment, but it’s not a free for all.”
Lacey's response focused on two government codes: one stating that items distributed to the majority of a body (the Board) must also be included in a public agenda (54857.5 (a)), and another code mandating public ratification of superintendent contracts, as well as making said contracts public (53262).
The Brown Act requires a contract that has been made available to a majority of the Board also be made available to the public upon request. However, it does not mandate that discussions be held in open session, only that the contract be made public if it’s been distributed to the majority of the Board.
Lacey's letter said that while Otto’s and Covert’s attempts to justify withholding the contract from public view until after its ratification were false, the Board did not commit a violation only because “there is no record of any member of the public actually requesting to inspect a copy before or at the meeting.”
The Board has maintained it acted in compliance with the Brown Act since the allegations surfaced in April. In a statement, Board President Jeff Kellogg reiterated that position and thanked the DA’s office for its guidance.
“We are pleased that the L.A. County District Attorney’s office agreed that the Board of Trustees was not in violation of the Brown Act in regard to the approval of the Superintendent-President’s contract on March 10, 2015,” Kellogg said. “Further, we appreciate that the D.A. has provided clarification on this matter, as it will reinforce our ongoing compliance with the Brown Act in future issues of this type. We thank the D.A.’s office for its opinion and counsel.”