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Records Document Another ECS Brown Act Violation on Jacobs Deal 

click to enlarge An overlay of an aerial image shows the former Jacobs school site, differentiating the portion slated to be purchased by a developer from the ball fields, which will be retained by Eureka City Schools.

CREDIT: City of Eureka

An overlay of an aerial image shows the former Jacobs school site, differentiating the portion slated to be purchased by a developer from the ball fields, which will be retained by Eureka City Schools.

Eureka City Schools appears to have violated more open meeting and public records laws in its handling of the former Jacobs middle school property exchange than previously known, the Journal has learned via a new batch of public records disclosed in response to the paper's request.

While the Journal already reported that the district erred in not listing on its meeting agenda the specific address of the property the district would be acquiring through the agreement — which has the district giving 8.3 acres of its long-shuttered middle school campus to AMG Communities-Jacobs LLC, a newly formed corporation, in exchange for two small residential units on I Street and $5.35 million in cash — recently released records document another violation of state sunshine laws.

In putting together the agenda for the Dec. 14 ECS board meeting, district staff included two separate items regarding the property exchange. The first was a closed session discussion that listed negotiating parties as AMG and the California Highway Patrol, which had long sought the site and reportedly had a $4 million purchase offer on the table for the property. That item was to allow the board to discuss the "price and terms of payment" behind closed doors before an open session item would allow the district to formally approve a resolution authorizing the property exchange with AMG. But when Eureka City Schools released its agenda and accompanying board packet — which included all of the staff reports and other documentation needed to inform board members and the public — it did not include the draft property exchange resolution. And when people and the press asked for it, they were told it wasn't yet a public document and would only be released if the board decided in closed session to move forward with the agreement.

Experts in the state's public records and open meeting laws — the Ralph M. Brown Act — told the Journal and other outlets covering the exchange that such a withholding of the resolution might be legal, if a majority of the board also only received the document at the same time as the general public. (Even then, though, some opined it would be bad governance, and the more transparent course would have been to deal with the closed session negotiations first, then bring forward the resolution at a subsequent meeting when board members and the public would have ample time to review the document and weigh in.)

However, documents released to the Journal subsequent to a public records act request show that the draft resolution and property exchange agreement were distributed to the entirety of the board shortly before 5 p.m. on Dec. 11, more than 72 hours before they were eventually released to the public.

This constitutes a violation, according to First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder and David Loy, the nonprofit's legal director.

"If it's going to the board to be discussed in open session, then, yes, that is a document they should have to disclose under the Public Records Act and the Brown Act," Loy said. "If we're talking about something that will go before the board in open session, there's no question about that."

The Lost Coast Outpost reported ECS Executive Assistant Micalyn Harris declined to provide a copy of the resolution when asked in advance of the Dec. 14 meeting. Similarly, documents released to the Journal pursuant to a records request indicate Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery requested the resolution in advance of the meeting and was told by Harris they would be made available "prior to discussion of the agenda item." Slattery responded to request the documents "as soon as the board members" have access to them, noting that's when they become public record. Harris did not respond until the afternoon following the Dec. 14 meeting.

Another email from Harris to ECS board members in advance of the Dec. 14 meeting also raises questions, noting the district's counsel would be joining the closed session discussion so the board could "discuss next steps and determine if to move forward," suggesting the closed-door conversation may have strayed beyond the bounds of directing district negotiators on "price and terms of payment."

Another email from Harris — this one providing the board a draft copy of the agenda on Dec. 8 — notes that former Superintendent Fred Van Vleck was still reviewing the property exchange resolution agenda item with then Assistant Superintendent Gary Storts, who has since taken over for Van Vleck, and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Paul Ziegler. As such, Harris advised the agenda wouldn't be released "until closer to the 72-hour mark" when the district would be legally required to make it public. Harris' email stresses the secrecy of the situation.

"Please note this agenda remains highly confidential and is not public until Monday afternoon," she wrote.

Storts has previously maintained that the district complied with the Brown Act when asked by the Journal, saying the agenda was prepared "in consultation with legal counsel," though he declined to explain exactly what counsel had told the district or detail why it felt noticing requirements had been met when legal experts interviewed by the Journal determined they had not.

(The deadline has now passed for "interested persons" to challenge the district's compliance with the Brown Act by sending it a "cure or correct" demand.)

As we've previously noted, much about the transaction remains shrouded in mystery more than three months after the agreement was approved. It still has not been publicly disclosed who AMG's principals are, and a spokesperson and an attorney representing the LLC have only described them as a "private group of small individual and family investors." Attorneys representing the LLC have been Eureka City School's only points of contact, according to Storts, and have been the only ones to sign associated documents.

The LLC has also missed a filing deadline with the California Secretary of State's Office to submit documents providing additional information on the company. An attorney, Thomas Swett, filed articles of organization with the Secretary of State's Office on behalf of the LLC on Dec. 12 — two days before ECS approved the property exchange — and the LLC was then required to file a subsequent "statement of information" about the LLC within 90 days, by March 11 but has failed to do so, according to the agency's website.

While the articles of organization simply list an agent, an LLC's "initial mailing address" and its management structure, the statement of information is more thorough. It requires an LLC to provide both a street address and a mailing address, identify a CEO and name its managers. This last point is especially noteworthy with AMG Communities-Jacobs because the secretive entity's articles of organization state it will be managed by all LLC members and the statement of information provides that if "no managers have been appointed," companies should "provide the name and address of each member."

A spokesperson for AMG Communities-Jacobs LLC did not immediately respond to a Journal email inquiry for this story regarding why the document has not yet been filed.

A version of this story was initially published at northcoastjournal.com.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected].

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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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