Beaumont Council Violates Brown Act and the Public's Trust

Last night’s council meeting provided a clear picture as to why we need change in Beaumont. It was business as usual in your city’s council meetings.

At the beginning of the public comment portion of the agenda, the Mayor, Brenda Knight, reads a statement of how the council is required, by law, to follow the Brown Act. The following is the Mayor’s statement and a legal requirement of The Brown Act: 

 PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD: Any one person may address the City Council on any matter not on this agenda. If you wish to speak, please fill out a “Public Comment Form” provided at the back table and give it to the City Clerk. There is a three (3) minute limit on public comments. There will be no sharing or passing of time to another person. State Law prohibits the Council from discussing or taking actions brought up by your comments. Any questions will be answered by staff after the meeting, during normal business hours or at the next regular meeting.

The purpose of the Brown Act is to provide an opportunity for public comment on an item on or off the agenda. If the council is planning to discuss an issue of importance, it must be placed on the official agenda and made public 72 hours in advance of the meeting. This is so the public can determine if they need to attend the meeting and have their voice heard on an issue important to them.

When a member of the public brings up issues not on the agenda, as the passage states above, the council members are prohibited from “discussing or taking actions”. The City of Beaumont’s statement goes on to say “Any questions will be answered by staff after the meeting, during normal business hours or at the next regular meeting.” To “discuss or take action” on an issue not on the agenda that is raised during public comments, is a clear violation of state law and The Brown Act.

During tonight’s public comment period, Dr. Blair Ball – a commissioner on the Beaumont Cherry Valley Water District - asked the City Council to resolve the law suit brought by the City of Beaumont against the Water District. The suit is over contested expenses for the pedestrian bridge on Brookside in front of Beaumont High School. The City and the Water district are parties to the law suit but the citizens and rate payers pay the legal fees through taxes and water bills. Since most of the citizens of Beaumont are both rate payers and tax payers, we pay for both legal teams regardless of the outcome of the law suit. Ball was arguing for a solution in which the lawyers aren’t the only ones to benefit. No discussion or action was taken by the council…yet.

Another speaker addressed the council on the WRCOG law suit. He asked for the council to hold a workshop to help citizens understand the position the Council is taking to appeal the law suit. No discussion or action was taken by the council…yet.

Recently the Council added a new section to the agenda to address public comments “Rumor control and Report on Public Comments”. By the City’s own declaration, and the Brown Act, “Any questions (during public comment) will be answered by staff after the meeting, during normal business hours or at the next regular meeting.” Calling an agenda item “Rumor Control” doesn’t allow the council to ignore The Brown Act. The city never lists the items that will be covered in the “Rumor Control” section and members of the public are unable to fill out a request to speak form since they are unaware of what issues the City Manager will be addressing.

The Deputy City Attorney will argue this section is not covered by The Brown Act since it is for announcements or explanations from staff and there will be no discussion or action taken by the Council. The council often violates this under the guise of asking clarifying questions, I’ve spoken out against this practice before last night on a number of occasions.

The rumor control began with the City Manager presenting the City’s position on the BCVWD law suit request raised by Dr. Ball during public comments. This was the first violation. Then Council Member Castaldo began his now too familiar line of questioning of Mr. Kapanicas which always elicit answers to clarify the Council and City’s position.

Still, during “Rumor Control” and before the next agenda item, the Mayor asked the Deputy City Attorney if she could read the City’s press release from last week concerning the WRCOG lawsuit. The Mayor was given his ok. After reading the press release the Mayor made it clear to the member of the public who brought up the issue during public comments, that this was in response to his comments, a violation. It didn’t stop there.

Mr. Castaldo now began his questioning of the Deputy City Attorney by asking about a legal decision regarding WRCOG by a judge previous to the case that resulted in the $43 million judgment. At this point, I asked for this discussion to be continued to a scheduled agenda item. This is when the City Clerk informed the Mayor that she needed to change discs for recording their podcast and would have to take a 10 minute break.

During the break, I filled out a request to speak form to discuss the WRCOG issue. I hadn’t planned on addressing this since it wasn’t on the agenda. My wife asked me earlier in the day to pick my 12 year old daughter from the high school after swim practice at 7:30. I checked the agenda and told her there wasn’t anything I needed to speak about and that I would pick her up. I was hoping to ask the council to schedule an item on the next meeting’s agenda to continue the WRCOG discussion. In the past, I’ve been accused of not staying to the end of every council meeting because I didn’t really care. I wanted to make it clear I had five minutes to get to the pool to pick up my daughter and that I wasn't leaving for any other reason.

When the meeting resumed, the City Clerk alerted the Mayor to my request to speak on the rumor control. The Mayor again looked to the Deputy City Attorney for guidance. The Deputy City Attorney and at least two of the incumbents I am challenging in next month’s election, told the Mayor not to allow me to speak. I pleaded with the Mayor to hear a short comment because I had to leave. Each time I started to open my mouth, Mayor Brenda Knight shut me down, at one point, she told me to calm down.

If I had known such an important issue would be discussed, I never would have made the commitment to pick up my daughter. Regardless of the fact that I am a candidate for the City Council, I am a citizen and a member of the public first. Tonight was a clear violation of rights granted to the public by The Brown Act. This happens regularly in Beaumont City Council meetings. Our Deputy City Attorney, and the former City Attorney before him, regularly overlook the rights of the citizens in favor of the council and City Manager. I realize the City Attorney's client is the City of Beaumont, represented by the City Council. So who will stand up for citizens when the Mayor denies a citizen their right to speak in a public meeting? Not one of the three council members present last night, all up for re-election.

If you believe this business as usual is appropriate behavior for council members, then I'm not your candidate, vote for the incumbents. If I am elected, I will provide the leadership this council desperately needs to bring back to Beaumont a government that accepts responsibility for its decisions and conducts its business in a way that earns respect from its citizens.