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OPINION: Hollister City Council is looking dysfunctional

Curing basic rifts is one area where the Brown Act fails

California Government Code 54950 and its extended provisions are called the Ralph M. Brown Act. The act, basically, governs open meetings for local government bodies, but it covers a lot more, including communication among elected officials.

Overall, the Brown Act is a pillar of good government because it prevents back room deals. However, in my opinion, there is one situation where the Brown Act makes things worse — that’s when organizational rifts need major repair and that’s the current situation at the Hollister City Council. Their inability to solve this dysfunction in private is hampering their work on almost everything in public. 

By expressly prohibiting serial meetings conducted through direct communications, personal intermediaries or technological devices for the purpose of developing a “concurrence as to action to be taken," the act means you can’t make any agreements in private. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes an agreement, in the form of a general direction, is necessary to get anything done. Well, if you can’t do it in private, do it in public by consensus.

I’m not party to the details or dynamics of the legally allowed closed-session council meetings, but when they run significantly overtime and all participants exit bearing the countenance of the Grim Reaper you can bet things aren’t going well.

The fact that five elected officials may have 10 different views on any contentious subject is a given; the obvious question is where do you go from there? Stalling out is a bad option for government bodies.  Even good, dedicated, politicians cannot avoid leakage when serious disputes – and the council has several – can poison the well for everyone.

The system is not built on agreement, it’s built on trust and once that is gone it’s all gone. At this time, the undercurrent of mistrust is palpable and it is undermining the city’s ability to find a way through the difficult decisions that have to be made in many critical areas. The mayor and council members appear to be more dedicated to winning their individual battles than winning the war against ineffective governance.

Individually and collectively, they should take heed of General Pyrrhus who, surveying the results of his hard-won but costly battle, said wisely, “Another such victory and we are lost.”

Marty Richman (Marty Richman)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer.Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects. You can follow Marty Richman on twitter @Marty_Richman. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.


There are rumors and allegations that one person on the Hollister City Council purposely violated the Brown Act by reporting to the Free Lance 'closed session' discussions about whether to fire staff based on an environmental violation and spillage of cannery wastewater into the San Benito River.

California state law is clear on potential consequences of violating the Brown Act; the city council may appeal to the District Attorney or the Grand Jury to seek injunctive relief from such actions and/or civil or criminal prosecution because violating the Brown Act as such may meet the threshold of a criminal misdemeanor. 

In addition, the city staff person may have grounds to hire an attorney and legally protect himself and his professional reputation from harm by suing the city because of the alleged Brown Act violation purposely committed by one person on the city council for the express purpose of impugning his reputation.

If true, what has happened is not only dysfunctional, it is an example of one person allegedly committing a criminal violation of the Brown Act for purely political purposes with intent to harm - and indeed terminate - the employment of a city staff person behind closed doors. 

We don't need a Judge/Jury/Executioner mentality from an elected official bent on a tyrannical 'divide and conquer' political agenda. We need responsible leadership. 

"We don't need a Judge/Jury/Executioner mentality from an elected official" or from anyone making  comments about what are admittedly classified as "rumors and allegations", for that matter.

My position is, and always has always been, that the rules should apply to everyone but. alas, none of us are perfect (not even me).  "I'd rather live my life knowing that I'm not perfect than spend my whole life pretending to be" - Will Smith

Marty Richman

Alas, when one opens the door to public comments about the dysfunctional city council, one can expect a response from anyone making an observation and forming an opinion in an open public forum. If you don't like it; too bad. 

Those rules do apply to everyone and the truth about all of this dysfunction and alleged improprieties will be exposed in due course whether one likes it or not. 

Mike Smith,

Since no names were mentioned concerning alleged illegalities just, "an elected official bent on a tyrannical 'divide and conquer' political agenda" I guess I can apply the same type of evaluation some contributors (not I) constantly apply to critical anonymous posters - "Please demonstrate the courage and integrity to identify who you are [referring to] in this forum. Otherwise, your opinion has no merit."

(Source:  Comment by Michael Smith, "Council delays vote on cannabis regulations, schedules study session" posted on Wed, 02/08/2017)

I hardly think it's fair to accuse a local official  - anyone - of illegal acts, but fail to identify them so they can defend themselves if they chose to do so when you obviously have an individual in mind (my guess is you are referring the Mayor, but how am I to know for sure since you declined to say?).

We are never going to find out who leaked the original story, I can't accuse or absolve anyone, because I do not know who did it; however, I do not see how it would benefit the Mayor to do so (and I do not know if his reaction was legal, either).  If I had to guess, the obvious guess is that the story of the Mayor's alleged attempt to replace the City Manager was leaked by someone OPPOSED to his position, but that is mere speculation.

Historical note, they used to call innuendo such as making accusations but failing to name names "yellow journalism" and the term came from the color of the ink they used for emphasis at the time not the color of someone's spine, as is often thought.

Marty Richman

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