Friday, September 26, 2014
County May Enter Into Contracts Without Public Hearings—C.A.
Allegations of Brown Act Violations Termed ‘Meritless’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Brown Act is not violated by the County of Los Angeles by its entering into contracts for the provision of social services without holding public hearings, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
It’s the county’s chief executive officer, not the Board of Supervisors, who enters into social program agreements (SPAs), Div. Three pointed out in an opinion by Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. The CEO signs an agreement only after it has been scrutinized independently by three other county officials, she noted, declaring:
“Proposed SPAs are individually scrutinized by the Executive Officer of the Board (Board’s Executive Officer), County Counsel, County Auditor-Controller, and ultimately, by the County Chief Executive Officer (County CEO), and the approval of each is required. However, the four signatories do not collectively decide to approve an SPA. Rather, a proposed SPA is reviewed in sequence by the four signatories, for issues within each one’s purview. The Brown Act applies to meetings of legislative bodies….The four SPA signatories do not constitute a legislative body and do not deliberate collectively in approving a SPA. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Brown Act claim is meritless.”
Klein’s opinion affirms a summary judgment granted to the county and the members of the Board of Supervisors by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan S. Rosenfield.
The action was brought by Robert Glen Golightly, a writer/director/producer/public relations consultant. He contended in his lawsuit that members of the Board of Supervisors were diverting tens of millions of dollars to pet projects, and were doing so in secrecy.
Klein characterized the use of the money differently. She said:
“The County uses SPAs to provide funding to organizations to address issues such as hunger, sexual and domestic violence, child abuse, as well as services for the elderly, physically and mentally disabled, and persons affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses.”
The jurist wrote that the chief executive officer has authority, delegated by the board in 1990, to “execute such contracts and agreements as may be necessary to implement the social programs to be paid from funds appropriated in the Budget for discretionary use by the supervisors, when such programs are to meet the social needs of the population of the County, including but not limited to, the areas of health, law enforcement, public safety, rehabilitation, welfare, education and legal services, and the needs of physically, mentally and financially handicapped persons and aged persons.”
In 1992, Klein recited, the board directed that the auditor-controller and the executive officer of the board also review SPAs.
She noted that each SPA is reviewed by the county counsel, which has not been expressly directed by the board but is “typical for many contracts entered into by the County.”
Act Not Breached
Addressing Golightly’s contention that the Brown Act is violated because the four officials function as a committee of the board, Klein said:
“The Brown Act contemplates collective action by a legislative body….
The argument fails because the four SPA signatories do not engage in collective decisionmaking. Rather…, the four SPA signatories act separately in scrutinizing proposed SPAs. Because they deliberate individually as opposed to collectively, their decisionmaking is outside the ambit of the Brown Act.”
There has been no impermissible delegation by the board of its decisionmaking powers, Klein declared. Approval of the budget, she said, was a “fundamental legislative function” which could not be delegated, but determinations as to execution of individual SPAs “is not a fundamental policy decision.”
The board “has retained its budgeting authority” and has “expressly retained authority to modify or rescind its delegation of SPA authority to the County CEO,” Klein said, adding:”
Clearly, there has been no “total abdication” by the Board of its legislative power.”
Action for Waste
Golightly also sued for waste. Klein wrote:
“As the trial court found, the gravamen of Plaintiff’s waste claim appears to be that every single expenditure of SPA funds constitutes waste because the County failed to comply with the Brown Act. Given our conclusion the SPA approval process is not subject to the Brown Act, the waste claim, insofar as it is predicated on alleged violations of the Brown Act, is meritless.”
The plaintiff also asserted that Rosenfield erred in denying his request for $1.9 million in attorney fees under a “catalyst” theory. His action, he noted, spurred two members of the board to put on the board’s agenda and SPA requests by them where more than $1,000 is to be spent.
Klein said that denial of a post-judgment attorney fee request is separately appealable and Golightly did not appeal from the decision, precluding the appellate court from considering the matter.
The case is Golightly v. Molina, B246413.
David W.T. Brown and Paul E. Heidenreich of Huskinson, Brown & Heidenreich represented Golightly. Deputy County Counsels Miller Barondess, Louis R. Miller, Mira Hashmall and Vinay Kohli were attorneys for the county.
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