Five takeaways from the district attorney’s investigation into the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors redistricting process
An investigation by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office found that the county’s board of supervisors and staff violated California’s open meeting law twice last year during the contentious redistricting process. county that lasted for months.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch shared the findings in two letters, which were made public Thursday.
Here are five takeaways from the survey findings:
1. The County Board of Supervisors and staff violated the Brown Law twice during their redistricting process. In his findings, Ravitch wrote that his office found two instances where the board violated state law that guarantees that the business of the public — elected local government — is conducted in public.
In the first violation, according to the district attorney’s office, the oversight board failed to properly inform the public of its reasons for participating in a closed meeting on November 19, where the discussion centered on the threats potential legal issues regarding the redistricting of the county.
This confidential meeting took into account a sharp rift between supervisors Lynda Hopkins and Chris Coursey over the redistricting. Their dispute colored subsequent weeks of public debate late last year over the new map redrawing the boundaries of the five supervisory districts.
The second breach occurred when staff compiled a memo summarizing supervisors’ comments on the redistricting and shared it with the five council members outside of a public meeting. The district attorney’s investigation concluded that the sharing of this note was “inappropriate,” a type of serial communication involving the council outside of public notice that is prohibited by Brown law.
2. The investigation revealed that the violations did not influence the final result of the redistricting. The county’s lead attorney, County Attorney Robert Pittman, said the findings do not compromise the new map approved by the 4-1 board on Dec. 14. Coursey was the only supervisor to vote against the final card. He favored the map created by the 19-member council redistricting advisory commission.
3. Pittman asked the DA to review the closed session after Coursey publicly voiced his concerns, calling the November 19 closed meeting pretense “bogus”. However, in addition to Pittman’s claim, Sonia Taylor, a political activist from Santa Rosa, also filed lawsuits accusing the board of Brown Law violations. Ravitch’s office simultaneously conducted its review of Taylor’s complaints and the investigation requested by Pittman. The district attorney’s office is investigating a latest complaint from Taylor, which she filed with the office on Monday.
4. The district attorney’s office advised the county to publicly release the memo shared with council members ahead of their Nov. 29 workshop, along with the documents outlining potential legal threats that formed the basis of the closed session of November 19. In a written statement, County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said the county was “working to release the documents.” They should be available on the county redistricting website.
5. The DA’s office also recommended additional training for the council and county on the Brown Law, established in 1953. According to Pittman, the county provides Brown Act training to all of its boards and committees once a year. It’s also mandatory for elected officials, Pittman said. Bratton said the county is planning this training.
You can contact editor Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or [email protected]. On Twitter @MurphReports.