Following major changes at the local government level, including the recent announcement that Lake County Director of Economic Development, Mary Darby, will resign effective November 4, and following the announcement of the closure of the Elijah House homeless shelter in early September, it became apparent that county administration has not placed an emphasis on keeping the public informed of these sudden but significant developments which have the potential to impact residents for months or even years to come.
The ever-present need for continued transparency is underscored by politicians trying to “poke holes” in state sun laws, as detailed in a recent article by columnist Dan Walters. State ‘solar laws’ such as the California Brown Act require public agencies to do their business publicly, but Walters writes pending legislation would ‘create loopholes’ allowing them to ignore parts of the laws longstanding California laws on open meetings, such as the Ralph M. Brown Act of 1953.
Walters rightly points out that “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, mostly in negative ways, and one of the effects is to disconnect California public servants from their constituents.”
In theory, digital governance is just as accessible and responsive as the physical version, but we think Walters is right to point out that in reality this is not the case. “Not only is the technology cumbersome and sometimes inoperable, but it assumes that everyone has access to computers and the internet, which is not true,” he writes. This is especially not true in a rural location with spotty broadband connectivity like Lake County.
Turning our attention to local government, at its last meeting, the Lake County Board of Supervisors, as part of its consent program, approved “the extended use of the County Juvenile Hall facility for a shelter of temporary support targeting the county’s chronically homeless population through Sept. 30. But unless you paid close attention, you probably wouldn’t even realize the temporary shelter was closing due to burnout. grants awarded this fall. We don’t recall many discussions about the impending closure of the facility that resulted in a myriad of unanswered questions.
The staff report from the meeting stated that “staff recommends that the board adopt a recommendation from the space utilization committee to extend the temporary use of the former juvenile hall by Elijah House”. What did that mean? what or who is the “space committee”, who sits on this committee and what does the process involve?
Justin Ammon, whose foundation is based in the Oroville area of Butte County, filled in some of the holes and said the Record Bee Tuesday that the foundation will continue to offer services at its Lucerne location located at 6110 East Highway 20, including housing navigation, case management and the “Back 2 Work” program, as these services are not part of from the initial grant associated with the management of the Lakeport refuge and are still funded by the association. No such discussion or elaboration took place at the county level.
The recently released Grand Jury Report Form 2021-22 also details compliance with Brown’s Law requirements with respect to the Lakeport Fire Protection District and Measure M’s package tax failures with respect to relates to entrances being unlocked to the public at council meetings, a lack of (disabled) wheelchair access, and that reporting actions have been “intermittent” in terms of reporting actions publicly, if at all, as well as the vote, which occurred during the closed sessions.
In Darby’s case, we believe the confidentiality concerns surrounding her resignation are negated by the public’s right to know how her department will move forward given that she was put in charge of the county’s cannabis program and the post-COVID economic development. In fairness to the county administrator, they promptly responded to a request for a resignation letter from Darby in which she lists her accomplishments during her brief tenure in office and cites “family disputes” as the reason she had to resign.
Retired County Administrator Carol Huchingson has talked a lot about transparency, but we found that much of that talk was mostly lip service given the number of instances of questionable releases and vague announcements. that residents receive from the county and the number of ad hoc committees without any oversight. . (Ad hoc meetings are not normally bound by state open meeting regulations.) A recent example was a press release announcing the departure of public health officer (Erik McLaughlin) who quit after just three month and a half of work. The only explanation given for his resignation was that “this role didn’t end up being a long-term fit”. Each time the county needs to go out and fill one of these vacancies, as recent BOS meetings revealed, recruiting firms hired to do the job cost between $25,000 and $30,000.
For that amount, we think the public deserves to know more about the details.
—The Editorial Board, Lake County Record-Bee