Inyo County sues citizens

inyocourthouseSome Inyo County citizens have grown so disturbed by the Inyo Supervisors’ habit of secrecy over major issues that they have gone to a ballot initiative to force issues out in the open. Now, the County has sued those citizens.

Last Thursday, Inyo County filed a lawsuit against the individuals at work to force $5 million county projects to a vote of the people.  Inyo County Counsel Randy Keller said he believes the measure violates both U.S. and California  Constitutions.  He has refused to write a ballot title and summary and wants the superior court to determine the constitutionality issue first.

The County lawsuit asks for a judgment on the constitutionality of the measure and relief for the County Counsel’s duty to prepare a title and summary for the proposed initiative.  This lawsuit names Jenifer Castaneda, Mary Roper, James Bilyeu, Judy Fowler and Kenneth Lloyd, all of whom signed  the notice of intent to circulate a petition to place their measure on the ballot.  A hearing is now set for Friday, August 19th.

In a statement released after the County filed its suit, Mary Roper describes citizen frustrations over the lack of public input into the decision about the location of the new state court building. On top of that, Roper and others began to notice all of the closed sessions over plans for a mega county office center in Bishop with what they say has been no public discussion.

Roper says that the law allows closed sessions on real property negotiations over price and terms of payment, but Roper and others strongly feel that the public was entitled to details of this large project before the Supervisors forged ahead with secret deals.

Roper’s statement says, “A group of us decided that we would go forward with this Citizens Initiative in order to ensure that the consolidated office building plans and costs were fully and completely discussed before the taxpayers are committed to more debt in these uncertain economic times.”

The statement calls for a complete and public analysis of this project.  Roper goes on to say that she believes County Counsel Keller’s failure to write a ballot title and summary by the August 9th deadline is “in violation of a Supreme Court decision and is delaying the Initiative process.”

County Counsel Keller’s lawsuit points to state laws that govern public works projects and the bidding and contract procedure.  To inject a vote of the people, he believes, would violate the law.  Keller has similar concerns regarding bond issues and leases.

Roper concludes by saying that “Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s hearing, the concerns and frustrations of the citizens of Inyo County regarding what is being discussed in closed session by our public servants must be acknowledged.  The excesses of government spending,” she write, “have contributed to these economic hard times.  None of us will know if this decision to build a new consolidated county office center is supportable without knowing all the details.  So far those details,” says Roper, “have been cloaked in secrecy.”


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24 Responses to Inyo County sues citizens

  1. David August 16, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    This lawsuit is another example of frivolous lawsuits……wasn’t enough public participation? There were meetings in both Bishop and Independence regarding the matter. How many more meetings are needed to point out the obvious, Bishop is where over 50% of the County’s population is located and the State of California has the final say. No one in Bridgeport is complaining about a new court facility being built in Mammoth. This case will quickly go the way of the dodo!

  2. ana August 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    You misunderstand what the lawsuit is about. This has nothing to do with the Court Building in Bishop.
    This is an initiative that would require a vote of the people for expenditures of over 5 million dollars by the Board of Supervisors. The purpose is to prevent encumbering the tax payers with debt in these uncertain economic times without full and complete disclosure about the necessity of large projects. It absolutely may be the right thing to build a new consolidated office building in Bishop, but the needs analysis and discussion about why officials need two offices (Bishop and Independence) is important and would be guaranteed if the subject was placed on the ballot before the dollars were committed.
    County Counsel is suing the proponents of this initiative because he believes that it is “facially” unconstitutional to limit the Board’s power to spend. He did not prepare the Ballot Title and Summary by the deadline so that the signature gathering could go forward to potentially place this initiative on the ballot.
    The initiative process in California has been in place for over 100 years. The right of citizens to enact laws via the initiative process is an important component of our representative democracy.
    Hope this helps clarify the issue for you.

    • Inyoite August 16, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      Curious how many people attended the board meeting that was held according to this agenda (see item 14) where an RFP for this project was discussed in an OPEN, PUBLIC meeting.

      Does the county keep records of who attended? Because it doesn’t look from the minutes of that same OPEN meeting that anyone from the public spoke or even asked questions.

      • ana August 17, 2011 at 7:42 am #

        Please note that every discussion since that time (well over a year) have been agendized as closed session discussions. You make my point.

        • Inyoite August 17, 2011 at 9:55 am #

          Please note that you answered none of my questions. Did you (or anyone else you know – including Ms. Roper, a former public elected official who knows how to access the agendas and when and where the board meets) attend the meeting I referenced above?

          As far as discussions since then being closed – they are noticed as negotiations, which are legally and rightfully exceptions under the Brown Act. Or does the real estate agent who is also a proponent of the measure an advocate of negotiating her real estate deals in public? That’s like playing poker with all your cards showing. If she were the successfully chosen agent for the court building or whomever they are negotiating with, she’d probably be singing a different tune or she’d find herself clientless.

          Regardless, this is a shotgun approach to a specific issue that will (if successful) create more problems in the long run than it will “solve” in the short run. $5 million won’t buy scratch in 5 or 10 years, and we’ll all be complaining about how the government won’t “do SOMETHING!!!” about this or that. Quite frankly, even in these days, the county won’t find anyone to negotiate with for any project if it has to be voted on before it can be approved. On the bright side, we’ll look the same in 2025 as we do today!

          • ana August 17, 2011 at 11:47 am #

            Your point about who attended the ONE meeting regarding issuing the RFP is moot. The public should not be chastised for missing ONE OPEN meeting over a year ago. Remember whose money is going to be spent…the public absolutely has every right to question why there were numerous agendized closed session discussions on this subject when the only items that can be discussed in closed session regarding this project are in the Brown Act:

            Government Code 54956.8. Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, a legislative body of a local agency may hold a closed session with its negotiator prior to the purchase, sale, exchange, or lease of real property by or for the local agency to grant authority to its negotiator regarding the price and terms of payment for the purchase, sale, exchange, or lease.

            However, prior to the closed session, the legislative body of the local agency shall hold an open and public session in which it identifies the real property or real properties which the negotiations may concern and the person or persons with whom its negotiator may negotiate.

            That is verbatim. Read it.

  3. upthecreek August 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    “For the people By the People”

    LIke I said before Our government is “Out Of Control”

    time that the PEOPLE take back their government

    • LP August 18, 2011 at 4:03 am #

      Amazing how quickly some forget once in office:

      “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…” Declaration of Independence, 1776

      If the constituents desire to put a cap on what they (the supervisors) can spend without a vote, maybe it’s because the constituents no longer trust the officials that are feeding at and upon the public trough.

  4. J.H. August 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    In my opinion, there should be no closed door meetings by public officials. Period! Lets have a vote on just that!

  5. The Boss August 17, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    The peasants are getting out of control and they will be taught a lesson!

  6. john August 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    It’s disturbing that criminal types seem to be gravitating towards public servant positions. It makes me wonder whether they are public servants, or public parasites.

  7. Clyde A. August 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    After the debt ceiling debacle, Friend and I have desided to exersice our rights and at the next election REELECT no one! If they hold a public office and cannot represent the voters it is time to elect a new one. No more chances! We keep reelecting these supervisors and wonder why we get nothing. It is time for new blood in all elected offices!

  8. Inyoite August 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    So, ana, I guess your answer then is, “No, I don’t know anyone who attended the open meeting, nor did I.”

    • ana August 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      You are incorrect. I was one of several audience members that were there for this item #14 on January 12, 2010.

      #14 COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR – Request Board consider and provide direction to staff regarding the recommendation to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) in an effort to secure cost-effective consolidated County office space in the Bishop area.

      There is nothing controversial about this agenda item. There would be no need to speak up regarding the issuance of an RFP. The RFP is available online for anybody to look at. The objection is not with the construction of a consolidated county office space in Bishop. The objection is to the many closed session meetings that were held regarding this. As I pointed out, there are very few exceptions to holding open meetings. If it concerns real property negotiations those exceptions are in Government Code 54596.8.

      Frankly, it should make no difference who was there or not there for the “Open Meeting”. Board of Supervisor’s Meetings are held mid-day on a work day. Not everybody can adjust their schedules to be there. That is why Open Meetings are important to stay informed on subjects, as they are also accompanied by Minutes of those Open Meetings.

      It is time to remember whose money is going to be spent on this. Again, it is absolutely the prerogative of the people to be interested in, and to be informed about big money expenditures by the County. Do you disagree with that?

      There is another news item today about alleged Brown Act Violations. This is not anything new.

      • Inyoite August 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

        Thank you for finally answering. So, if the issue is with the closed sessions, the initiative does exactly what now to fix that? All I’ve seen is about a $5 Million dollar cap, but apparently you know more about it than has been reported.

    • Deb September 21, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      The problem with attending the meetings is the time they are held. Who can afford to take time off from work?? And Bishop you are only 50% of the county population, what about the other half of us? And I totally agree with Clyde…..DO NOT RE-ELECT our supervisors if you want a change. You know the definition of insanity, right?

  9. JeniferCastaneda August 19, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I am the real estate agent/proponent you referred to. Thanks you for using the real estate analogy. I have been a licensed agent/broker for 23 years and yes property negotiations are and should be private. The point you forgot in your analogy is that in the end, after the private negotiations, the entity with the money, i.e. bank, buyer paying cash, etc has the ultimate say as to whether or not the purchase/lease obligation goes forward. This is exactly my point… Let the taxpayers be informed and have a say in regards to very large expenditures that spend their money and obligate them to future debt.

    • Inyoite August 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

      Okay, so let’s think this through, and hear your thoughts as a real estate professional. Let’s imagine you have a client that wants to sell a property for $5.1M to the county. Do you think your client is going to want to wait to for the 3-6 months (or however long it will be?) until the deal is voted on? Effectively, this measure will forever cap the progress in the county to $5M, which will be nothing in 10, 20, or 30 years.

    • Eamon August 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

      And by your logic, the County should put up for public debate the issue of donating land in Independence to the State free of charge with no strings attached other than the State must build a new court on it. This is taking land out of the tax rolls of Inyo County (forever) at a cost of millions of dollars.

  10. NTB August 19, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    All the public officials were elected by “the people” of Inyo County. Vote them out for wasting our money and be careful who your replace them with..

  11. bobbie lee swagger August 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    listen , if they (OUR elected officials) feel they have to do something in private / behind closed doors , it’s simple = they’re hiding something . throw ’em the f out .

  12. salblaster August 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    closed sessions and public meetings. it seems to me that if are elected county officials are having ” secret meetings” whats wrong with that,they were elected by majority as represenitives of the county. easily replaceable at voting time ,but the same people keep getting reelected they must be doing something right. as for public meetings people by the hundreds will show up for a high school football game, while a meeting on county accounting practices might draw 3 people from the whole county. the public is just to busy with their own lives and family’s to be keeping an eye on county officials, isnt that what the grand jury is for.

  13. Daris August 23, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    There was a hearing on this matter before Judge Stout in Independence 8/19 where both he and Judge Lamb disqualified themselves and scheduled another hearing in Bishop for 9/1 at 10 a.m. Dept. 4 before Judge Argento. By being present you can not persuade the judges decision it will be his interpretation of the law but you can let our County Supervisors know that the citizens of Inyo are interested in how our tax dollars are being spent. I for one want full and truthful disclosure from them.

    Remember how your supervisor votes on county issues next election not what is promised in an election campaign and VOTE accordingly.

  14. Daris August 23, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Inyoite; Item 14 on the board agenda states “Request board consider and provide direction to staff regarding the recommendation to issue a request for Proposal (RFP) in and effort to secure cost effective consolidated County office space in the Bishop Area.”

    This was at an open meeting and is all well and good but where and when was the recommendation provided to the Supervisors in and open agendiazed meeting?


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