Council agenda item on ‘Goals’ falls short of state mandates

City Hall

One of two agenda items on a special Hollister City Council meeting scheduled for Monday evening is listed as “Goals and Objectives” and could lead officials down a flimsy legal path if they choose to discuss specific topics.
Additionally, the city fell short of the state’s open-meetings law requirements for the gathering because the local newspaper of general circulation, the Free Lance, did not receive a proper notice for an amended agenda that the clerk acknowledged was necessary to meet state standards. State law requires that the Free Lance was to receive the amended agenda with 24 hours notice.
City Clerk Tom Graves on Thursday afternoon sent a series of emails regarding the agenda for a special meeting set for 5 p.m. Monday at Hollister City Hall, 375 Fifth St. The agenda included two listings.
One of those is titled “Goals and Objectives” and included a description that reads: “The City Council will discuss short- and long- term goals & objectives, and strategic plans for the City of Hollister.” Item No. 2 on the council agenda is a proposed resolution to appropriate funds annually to the Hollister Downtown Association, a continuation from last week’s regular meeting.
The one-page agenda did not include any backup documents.
The state open meetings law, the Brown Act, requires agendas for all public meetings, such as the special gathering Monday, to include descriptions on every matter up for possible action or discussion. Special meetings require a 24-hour agenda notice.
Agenda items with such descriptions as “goals and objectives” or “strategic plans”—as they appear on Monday’s special agenda—could open the door for a prospectively broad range of discussion topics excluded from the agenda.
Graves when questioned by the Free Lance on Thursday initially rejected the possibility that the agenda lacked enough detail.
“It’s perfectly acceptable to have a special council meeting when all you’re going over are goals and objectives for the budget,” Graves said.
Hired last fall, Graves at one point in the interview remarked how he’s “been doing this for a long time” and said such broad discussion listings, like the one for Monday, are acceptable as long as there is no council action taken. He said it is “impossible” to put every discussion item on an agenda.
The state’s Brown Act, however, expressly requires it.
According to section 54956(a) of the state Government Code:
“A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the legislative body of a local agency, or by a majority of the members of the legislative body, by delivering written notice to each member of the legislative body and to each local newspaper of general circulation and radio or television station requesting notice in writing and posting a notice on the local agency’s Internet Web site, if the local agency has one. The notice shall be delivered personally or by any other means and shall be received at least 24 hours before the time of the meeting as specified in the notice. The call and notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted or discussed. No other business shall be considered at these meetings by the legislative body.”
When the Free Lance pointed out that the Monday agenda lacked any mention of “budget” as stated repeatedly by Graves in the interview, he acknowledged the agenda had issues.
“You might have a point about that. Let me see,” Graves said, looking over the agenda. “Hah, your point is well taken.”
Graves followed up that same afternoon by sending an email titled “REVISED 02-08-16 Special Meeting Agenda” but that email did not include any attachments for an agenda document or any mention of the budget. The agenda that links to the city’s website, as of Sunday night, also included the original description that lacks any mention of “budget”. On Monday, the agenda posted outside Hollister City Hall did include the phrase “budget” in the description.
Nikki Moore, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said such an agenda as the original one sent out Thursday—excluding mention of “budget” in the document—leaves question marks on potential discussions.
“How do we know what they were planning to talk about?” Moore said.
Even Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, when questioned on the matter Friday, said he would talk to Graves about including specific committee topics on the agenda. Velazquez said it would be beneficial for meeting fluidity as well.
“I want to keep the focus,” Velazquez said. “I don’t want to be all over the place.”

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