News

Santa Clara County DA: Supervisors violated open meeting law when appointing new county manager

Rosen says board of supervisors twice violated Brown Act in meeting naming County Counsel James Williams as new county executive

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is demanding the Board of Supervisors nullify and revote on its appointment of a new county executive, saying the decision -- which happened behind closed doors -- violated the state's transparency law.

Jeff Rosen. Courtesy Jeff Ronsen.

In a letter sent to all five supervisors on Thursday, Nov. 10, Rosen said the board twice violated the Brown Act, which requires public access to government meetings. The board failed to disclose to the public ahead of a closed session on Oct. 17 that it was considering appointing a new executive to replace CEO Jeff Smith, who's retiring on July 1, 2023. The board broke the rules a second time when it failed to immediately report its vote to appoint County Counsel James Williams to the position at a public meeting on Oct. 18.

"To maintain the public's engagement as much as possible," Rosen wrote, "the Brown Act requires that topics for discussion in a closed session be described beforehand in a publicly available agenda so that community members can offer public comment on them. The Brown Act also requires the prompt public reporting of any action taken during a closed session."

James Williams, County of Santa Clara counsel, explains a new couty health order during a press conference in San Jose on July 2, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The DA's letter came days after San Jose Spotlight's exclusive reporting on one of the Brown Act violations, informing the board it has 30 days to remedy the violations, or the DA would sue the board for breaking the law.

"Plainly, this does not alert the public that the board would be considering, and might even appoint, the next county executive," Rosen said in the letter. "Without fair notice, community members -- who later proved eager to weigh in -- were unable to offer their comments prior to the closed session. This was a violation of the Brown Act."

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

At the Nov. 1 meeting, when the public first heard about Williams' appointment, supervisors repeatedly said they unanimously voted to pick the new county CEO on Oct. 17, which was validated in a county document.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg previously told San Jose Spotlight the board misspoke, adding the action taken in closed session on Oct. 17 was only an authorization for some supervisors to meet with Williams and negotiate his employment agreement.

On Friday, Ellenberg acknowledged the DA's letter and vowed to remedy the violations. The board is scheduled to meet in closed session Monday to discuss the letter.

"I'm looking forward to the (board) meeting on Tuesday when the board will have the opportunity to clarify our statements and actions and take whatever measures are legally necessary to ensure that we are and remain in compliance with all applicable laws," Ellenberg told San Jose Spotlight.

Santa Clara County Executive Officer Dr. Jeff Smith speaks at a new COVID-19 vaccination site at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Feb. 9. Courtesy 49ers Communications.

Williams' appointment has ruffled feathers throughout Silicon Valley. News about his appointment came days after Smith announced his retirement. A coalition of more than 30 organizations and leaders signed a letter demanding more transparency and public involvement in the process. At least one elected official, Assessor Larry Stone, objected to the secretive hiring process.

The board will discuss Williams' appointment and contract again at its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting.

This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight here.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Get uninterrupted access to important local political news. Become a member today.

Santa Clara County DA: Supervisors violated open meeting law when appointing new county manager

Rosen says board of supervisors twice violated Brown Act in meeting naming County Counsel James Williams as new county executive

by Tran Nguyen / San Jose Spotlight / Bay City News Service

Uploaded: Mon, Nov 14, 2022, 3:37 pm

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is demanding the Board of Supervisors nullify and revote on its appointment of a new county executive, saying the decision -- which happened behind closed doors -- violated the state's transparency law.

In a letter sent to all five supervisors on Thursday, Nov. 10, Rosen said the board twice violated the Brown Act, which requires public access to government meetings. The board failed to disclose to the public ahead of a closed session on Oct. 17 that it was considering appointing a new executive to replace CEO Jeff Smith, who's retiring on July 1, 2023. The board broke the rules a second time when it failed to immediately report its vote to appoint County Counsel James Williams to the position at a public meeting on Oct. 18.

"To maintain the public's engagement as much as possible," Rosen wrote, "the Brown Act requires that topics for discussion in a closed session be described beforehand in a publicly available agenda so that community members can offer public comment on them. The Brown Act also requires the prompt public reporting of any action taken during a closed session."

The DA's letter came days after San Jose Spotlight's exclusive reporting on one of the Brown Act violations, informing the board it has 30 days to remedy the violations, or the DA would sue the board for breaking the law.

"Plainly, this does not alert the public that the board would be considering, and might even appoint, the next county executive," Rosen said in the letter. "Without fair notice, community members -- who later proved eager to weigh in -- were unable to offer their comments prior to the closed session. This was a violation of the Brown Act."

At the Nov. 1 meeting, when the public first heard about Williams' appointment, supervisors repeatedly said they unanimously voted to pick the new county CEO on Oct. 17, which was validated in a county document.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg previously told San Jose Spotlight the board misspoke, adding the action taken in closed session on Oct. 17 was only an authorization for some supervisors to meet with Williams and negotiate his employment agreement.

On Friday, Ellenberg acknowledged the DA's letter and vowed to remedy the violations. The board is scheduled to meet in closed session Monday to discuss the letter.

"I'm looking forward to the (board) meeting on Tuesday when the board will have the opportunity to clarify our statements and actions and take whatever measures are legally necessary to ensure that we are and remain in compliance with all applicable laws," Ellenberg told San Jose Spotlight.

Williams' appointment has ruffled feathers throughout Silicon Valley. News about his appointment came days after Smith announced his retirement. A coalition of more than 30 organizations and leaders signed a letter demanding more transparency and public involvement in the process. At least one elected official, Assessor Larry Stone, objected to the secretive hiring process.

The board will discuss Williams' appointment and contract again at its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting.

This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight here.

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.