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No secrets
by Daniel Webster, Editor and Publisher Pioneer Press August 1, 2007

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board can not have a secret meeting. They can have closed session meetings to discuss personnel matters and pending litigation.

They can have an open meeting which we are allowed to attend. But, they can not meet in secret to make a decision or collect information.

Most of us are familiar with the Brown Act, the law that governs local boards such as the county supervisors or a local school board. The Brown Act determines what is a meeting and what a board can do or not do, such that the public has access to their decision making process.

The Brown Act governs local boards.

The Bagley-Keene Act is the equivalent of the Brown Act, but it is the law that dictates how a state board or commission operates its meetings and conducts business.

This act would dictate that the state's water quality control board can not have a quorum of its members collecting information or making a decision without a proper meeting notice and allowing the public - you and me - to be part of the process and comment on their decision and the information they are receiving. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has seven members, thus a quorum of the board is four or more members.

On Friday, the Pioneer Press was kicked out of a secret meeting three of the board members and the board's attorney had with the Karuk tribe.

By three of their members meeting together they walked the fine line coming close to a quorum.

Here is where the problem arises.

The Bagley-Keene Act also expressly prohibits a board from having a "serial meeting" of its quorum, according to the state's attorney general's office.

The AG states as an example "a chain of communications involving contact from member A to member B who then communicates with member C would constitute a serial meeting in the case of a five person body. Similarly, when a person acts as the hub of a wheel (member A) and communicates individually with the various spokes (members B and C), a serial meeting has occurred."

So here we have the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board - which has proven itself to be a politically motivated ideological tool - walking the fine line which could become at a moments notice the tightrope which is their noose.

All that needs to happen for them to violate the law is for one member or their attorney communicate information from the super-secret meeting with the Karuks to one other member of the board.

Unfortunately, the Pioneer Press was rejected from the meeting to determine what information was disseminated and it would be virtually impossible for us to get our hands on any email or phone call from one member of the board to another.

I wonder why the board's attorney was so outraged that we were there. It would seem if they weren't hiding anything there would be no problem with us knowing what the tribe was telling the board.

-Daniel Webster

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