EDITORIAL - An item appeared on the Madera County Board of Supervisor's agenda that made a few heads turn this week. Apparently there is a new group of unrepresented employees who need to negotiate their salaries and benefits in closed session this year, the Board of Supervisors.
Item "2-f" was a request for a closed session discussion which had something to do with labor negotiations pursuant to the California Government Code Section 54957.6. The county labor management was going to be represented by Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming and his deputy from Human Relations, Adrienne Calip. The unrepresented employees were each of the board of supervisors, Assessor Gary Svanda, Auditor Todd Miller, Recorder/Clerk Rebecca Martinez, District Attorney David Linn, Sheriff Jay Varney and Treasurer Tracy Kennedy. Here after known as "The Electeds".
The only problem being that it is against California law for the board of supervisors to meet in private to discuss their salary or the salary of any of the other "The Electeds". Something about "Open Government" and "Transparency". Those things seem to always get in the way of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, Eric Fleming and our lame-duck chairman Rick Farinelli. In fact Mr. Farinelli often brags about how the B.O.S. gets more work done in closed session.
The current Madera County Council (outsourced to the tune of $500,000 a year) missed the part of CGC section 54957.6 where it stipulates that closed session salary discussions are not an option for elected officials. "(b) For the purposes of this section, the term “employee” shall include an officer or an independent contractor who functions as an officer or an employee, but SHALL NOT include any elected official, member of a legislative body, or other independent contractors"
Or did she miss it?
Was this a simple mistake of not knowing or more-over not completely reading the California Government Code? Or was it business as usual hoping the public never found out?
Anyone who knows CAO Eric Fleming knows that in his mind "The Electeds" are no more than employees of his that are picked by the people, who in his thoughts shouldn't be allowed to pick anyone who works for him. Look at how he has treated longtime county clerk Rebecca Martinez or longtime county treasurer Tracy Kennedy for the last four years. If Eric had it his way both of those positions would be appointed department heads, rather than elected. Mr Fleming seems to think taking the public out of the selections or election process would be so much easier. So its not too far-reaching to believe that in Eric's mind this should be handled quietly, in closed session, because it is about his employees, "The Electeds".
The other way to look at this is that our outsourced county counsel is incompetent. A few years ago we layed off most of our county attorneys and went with a law firm for around $300,000 a year to save money. Then soon after that budget was approved, another amount was invoiced bringing the total up to around $500,000. Now there is talk that in this budget cycle the county counsel bill will cap out at nearly $1,000,000. Where is the savings now? And if they don't know that "The Electeds" aren't strictly employees (by government code citations), just how competent is the work product we are paying for?
If you were watching the board meeting Tuesday you might have seen the very young, bubblegum chewing county counsel attorney scrambling on the phone, then finally announcing to the public that item "2-F" was pulled from the remaining closed session agenda and would come back on August 9th where it would be added to the public agenda. You are welcome Madera County. Big Valley News was on top of another secret and possible Brown Act violating meeting.
The question that still has not been answered though is "What were they going to vote on and did it have to do with giving Rick Farinelli a retirement when he leaves in December? BVN did pose this question to CAO Eric Fleming who has yet to answer.