While conducting its first Zoom meeting, the San Simeon Community Services District (CSD) says it accidentally posted the wrong login information. However, the SLO County District Attorney's Office found that it failed to hold an "open and public" meeting, violating the Brown Act.
- Photo Courtesy Of The San Simeon Community Services District Website
- ACCIDENTAL MISINFORMATION The SLO County District Attorney's Office slapped the San Simeon Community Services District with a Brown Act violation notice for failing to provide public access to its March 2020 special meeting.
On March 20, the district held a special meeting with one agenda item, "declaration of emergency and resolution of the San Simeon Community Services District to temporarily authorize increased authority of the general manager and temporary relief for nonpayment of water/sewer bills." The agenda listed a Zoom link and conference number as the location of that meeting.
According to a letter the District Attorney's Office sent to San Simeon on April 10, about 27 minutes into the 38-minute meeting, district board Vice Chair Gwen Kellas asked whether anyone else in the public had a comment. That was when the board realized there was only one public commenter and acknowledged it was a result of the Zoom link and conference number not working.
"Well, OK this is our first go-around, and all I can say is that we'll get better," Kellas said during the meeting.
Yet, the district continued with the meeting and unanimously voted to declare an emergency. In its letter, the District Attorney's Office deemed that the "error was not incidental"—the error being the Brown Act violation.
"The record of the meeting indicates at least some knew of the issue before the meeting started. Yet the staff failed to take steps to correct the error before the start. No effort was made to update the notice, post the correct information on the website, or even delay the special meeting," the letter stated.
Kellas told New Times that "the normal people that are normally at the meeting physically were the people that were on the call."
Being the first Zoom meeting the district conducted, Kellas said she wasn't aware that members of the public had an issue with accessibility to the meeting until after she asked for more public comment. She said San Simeon is a small enough community that if someone was having trouble with participating in the meeting they could have walked over to the district office or called and asked for help.
After the meeting, the district held six days of Zoom training that was open to the public.
Kellas said the district did not receive any correspondence from the SLO County District Attorney's Office other than the notice of Brown Act violation and didn't feel the assessment was fair.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth told New Times there is no legal requirement that the District Attorney's Office contact a community services district in advance of sending a demand to "cure and correct" under these circumstances.
"The district's March 2020 meeting was recorded and available for public viewing after the meeting was concluded. There was sufficient information presented in the recorded meeting to determine a violation occurred," he said.
Additionally, Dobroth said the District Attorney's Office did not send the demand for cure until April 10, "providing the district sufficient time to self-cure the violation."
Due to the Brown Act violation, the original emergency declaration didn't count and the district was forced to vote on it again at a later meeting, the district must provide the District Attorney's Office with agenda packets for the rest of the calendar year, and board members must have Brown Act training.