Balancing the County’s Budget Deficits
on the Backs of Children
By Ray A. March
June 21, 2001
Commission Jumps on Michelson
The anticipated closed session on June 21, 2001 began at 5:05 p.m. and in less than an hour the commission’s deliberations ground to stop -- not behind closed doors as it planned, but in open session.
Not only had the commission failed in its responsibility to legally inform Donna Michelson as to what charges were being made against her prior to holding the meeting -- which was a violation of the Brown Act -- it had failed to properly serve her notice.
It should not be overlooked that Michelson holds a graduate degree in law. Exposing that Chair Phillip Smith wanted to “denounce” the “concept paper” in closed session and away from the public view, she requested the meeting be open -- and not closed.
Michelson’s handling of the “concept paper” was rescheduled for July 10 on the motion of commissioner Patricia Cantrall and seconded by vice chair Dr. Edward Richert. More would be heard from Smith and Richert, and eventually Cantrall.
July 10, 2001
Once again all members of the commission were present. Donna Michelson was legally served to appear at the July 10 meeting by Sheriff Bruce Mix. Once again the commission was ready to meet behind closed doors when once again Michelson detoured them.
Quoting a section of the Brown Act, Michelson told commissioners she was entitled to an open meeting because as acting secretary she had to take the minutes of the executive session and besides there had already been an open forum on June 13 and the “public had a stake in the outcome.”
The previous month three of the six-member commission submitted written opinions of her handling the “concept paper” meeting. The written opinions were at Michelson’s request. Complying were Richert, Smith and Harbaugh.
Richert and Smith’s reports were among documents made public by the current First 5 office under provisions of the California Public Records Act. There was no explanation for the absence of Harbaugh’s report.
In his report, Richert expressed “disappointment” in Michelson, telling her that “in recent weeks I feel you have taken on a consistently adversarial role that has promoted a spirit of ‘us against them.’” He was apparently referring to the “concept paper” meeting only and did not mention Michelson’s other role of insisting on the legal management of the Prop. 10 Trust Fund.
Smith also withheld any mention of the treasurer and auditor’s misuse of treasury funds, but instead wrote that Michelson had:
“Failed to obtain authorization from the commission to publish the Strategic Plan Concept Paper in the name of the commission and, failed to pass to the commission correspondence addressed to the commission for review and before generating a common response, and then you responded in the name of the commission without advising the commission.”
Curiously, Smith made no written mention of his intention to “denounce” the “concept paper.”
But, Smith insisted on discussing Michelson’s handling of the concept paper at the June 13 public forum in closed session. Cantrall expressed concern over the legality of a closed session because she felt Smith was not acting on the advice of an attorney -- but instead had consulted CAO Mike Maxwell. Michelson stood firm in her right to an open session.
It is not known what Maxwell’s advice was to Smith.
An eventual compromise was made with Smith allowing members of the audience to give their opinions before the commission went into closed session -- and one by one Nancy Braman, Arlene Johnson, Cheryl Maxson, Betty Holloway and Gannette Mirlohi spoke both in support of the concept paper and of Michelson.
“Change always brings about a little discomfort,” Mirlohi told commission members.
The legal notice served on Michelson and signed by Smith stated the purpose of the personnel session was to discuss complaints about her “performance as executive director.” Apparently the only source of complaint was the commission itself and not the public. No one from the public sector came forward to complain about Michelson’s job performance.
Not only did Braman, Johnson and Maxson support Michelson, they also told the commission they were against its practice of keeping the Prop. 10 Trust funds in the county treasury. While Michelson’s Prop. 10 message was not getting through to the commission, it was being heard by members of the general public who attended the commission’s meetings.
In fact, there is no mention in the minutes that the commission recognized or responded to the issue of the Prop. 10 Trust Funds. Instead, the commission went into closed session for 56 minutes and emerged with two options for Michelson’s consideration.
The first option, drafted by Cantrall was to “devise guidelines” governing Michelson’s contract, bylaws and job description and “to give direction to those areas that are unexpected or new.”
Under the second option, Smith wanted to take a tougher and more punitive approach where either the commission or Michelson could “exercise their option under the employment agreement to give the required 15 days notice to quit the contract.”
Michelson reminded Smith that her contract required the commission to find “cause” to fire her and asked Smith if he had cause to do that. With that, Smith dropped his effort to amend the contract agreement and Michelson agreed to Cantrall’s proposal, according to the minutes.
Smith went further and also withdrew an earlier motion to “denounce” and “renounce” the concept paper, saying in answer to a question from Michelson that he did not intend to bring the matter up at the commission’s regular meeting the next day, July 11, 2001.
Clearly, the commission was uneasy and dissatisfied with Michelson’s aggressive management style. The commission, as records will reveal, was becoming more resolute in stonewalling both the issue of the Prop. 10 funds and dealing openly and directly with the “concept paper” issue.
Next: Part 10
Supervisor Patricia Cantrall ordains that “that all monies of the commission remain within the county treasury.”