Editorial: Hollister council needs a sense of order

City Hall

It appears Hollister officials have tossed their copy of the Brown Act right out the front door at City Hall.
They showed that level of blatant disrespect for the state open meetings law at last week’s city council meeting during a hearing over a proposed subdivision and related sewer line. Strikingly, the mayor and city attorney led the way in fostering the chaos, and it came just two months after a town hall setting where Hollister officials failed to properly post agenda topics at that meeting.
Council members last week were considering an 81-unit subdivision at Southside Road between San Benito Street and Nora Drive, along with a developer reimbursement agreement pertaining to a related sewer line, which would support further building around the area. A second developer wanted to hook up to the oversized sewer line for convenience, but complained about the cost.
In the midst of the discussion, council members recognized a serious problem – they hadn’t properly noticed neighbors about the consideration – and ultimately continued the item to a future meeting. There was no excuse for the city’s oversight of that legal requirement to give proper mail notification to potentially affected neighbors, and any official discussion on the matter violated the law.
Officials didn’t immediately diagnose the problem, though, allowing for more missteps. As the discussion unfolded, it quickly turned to a back-and-forth, free-for-all debate in which Mayor Ignacio Velazquez openly negotiated with the developer about fee reimbursements and what the builder is willing to finance. Within the Brown Act, Government Code 54957, it specifically states that agencies must disclose final terms of a negotiation before it is up for discussion and consideration.
The city attorney not only neglected to step in and halt the inappropriate tenor displayed on several occasions in the discussion, but he also took part by debating with the developer in an adversarial, seesaw fashion while disputing menial details from the prior talks. City Attorney Brad Sullivan with the L&G law firm is supposed to prevent and stop such shenanigans, not take part in them. The same goes for Velazquez.
While it is one thing for the mayor and others to expedite a notoriously slow government process, officials can’t simply bulldoze through important legal barriers established in the Brown Act. Those rules, after all, are there to protect everyone involved, including the citizens at home who can’t make it to the meeting.

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