Brown Act violations have plagued Altadena’s only elected legislative body like fleas on a coyote in recent years – and continue to do so, despite assurances to the contrary by Altadena Library District board of trustees and their highly-paid outside attorneys.
By Rene Amy
Seriously – the ALD board still hasn’t held a meeting that hasn’t broken the state’s open-meeting law
Pretty much everyone in the Pasadena/Altadena area knows by now that the Altadena Library District board of trustees engaged in numerous violations of the state’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Act. Nearly 100 such violations are detailed on the ALD’s website , with the information posted as a form of both contrition and acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
But despite pouring money down a wide-open rat hole of legal fees, there’s been at least one Brown Act violation at each meeting of the ALD board for years – and they’ve continued unabated to this day.
When allegations of such illegal activity were first made, then-president of the ALD board John McDonald precipitously resigned.
Mr. McDonald has made no public statement since – but in the months prior to his resignation, Mr. McDonald went out on his own and contacted two different law firms to represent the ALD. That came after the library’s former attorneys summarily quit, which action caused former Library Director and whistleblower Mindy Kittay to draft a legally-mandated Request for Proposal for legal services.
In a public meeting, Mr. McDonald recommended that the ALD board hire the firm of Best Best & Krieger. BB&K claims to provide a full range of legal services, including public relations and “political finesse.”
After public outcry over the perceived impropriety of Mr. McDonald’s unilateral actions, ALD staff prepared and processed a second RFP. With Mr. McDonald by then off the board, the board chose BB&K over the staff recommendation of another firm. Crucial to that decision was input from then-board-member Armando Zambrano, an attorney who backed the selection of BB&K. An appointed member of the board who missed many meetings, Mr. Zambrano chose not to face the electorate this past November, and was replaced by voters.
Members of the ALD board have recently crowed about how, thanks to its outside attorneys from BB&K, the board now sets a model of openness. Board members have expressed great satisfaction with the work of these outside lawyers, and have assured the public that the taxpayer money spent – money that was intended to provide services to all community members, but was instead diverted into the pockets of these attorneys – was well spent.
Much like the Emperor’s new clothes, there’s nothing there.
Every ALD board meeting held since BB&K was hired has been held in violation of the law, specifically Cal Gov’t Code Sec. 54954.2(a) (1) which directs that the agenda of a meeting of a legislative body “shall include information regarding how, to whom, and when a request for disability-related modification or accommodation, including auxiliary aids or services, may be made by a person with a disability who requires a modification or accommodation in order to participate in the public meeting.”
No such information is to be found on any ALD board meeting agenda, and yet, attorneys from BB&K have been paid to sit in on ALD board meetings, and even been paid to provide training on Brown Act compliance during board meetings for months.
It’s excusable for ALD staff to miss this point in law, especially since it’s only been only the books for a couple of years.
But it is inexcusable for an attorney – or a legal firm – to miss.
That’s especially true now that the ALD is finally beginning to wake up to its responsibilities to serve the entirety of the community as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that has been on the books nearly 20 years.
It’s shameful that the ALD still fails to meet its legal mandate to serve those with disabilities.
It’s far worse that the ALD’s contract attorneys have failed to properly advise the ALD and make sure that this violation of law was corrected.
It was literally right in front of them for month after month as they attended ALD board meetings.
Just as individuals with disabilities are not second-class citizens, small government agencies like the ALD are not second-class clients for multi-office law firms like BB&K.
The constituents of the ALD deserve for every penny of their tax money to be squeezed until it bleeds to provide effective, efficient, and visionary services to all library patrons – including those with disabilities.
Diverting any of that money from that purpose to attorneys is a shame.
Diverting hundreds of thousands of those dollars to outside attorneys who fail to address even such a simple matter should be cause for uproar – and great concern.
Clearly, those ALD board members who have publicly crowed about BB&K should rethink their position.
To their credit, ALD officials have agreed, under threat of legal action, to comply with the Brown Act’s ADA-compliance requirement in future.
But it’s clearly time to hire a law firm that can read the law and properly advise its clients.
Rene Amy is a longtime community activist living in Altadena.
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