Public Discussion and Vote Approved

Patrick Henry
Coastal Commission’s Chief Legal Counsel O.K.’s Open Public Debate and Vote by Commissioners on the Reasons to Fire the Executive Director

SUMMARY: Yesterday (Feb 6), the CA Coastal Commission’s Chief Counsel advised the Commission, staff and public that it is entirely legal for the twelve Coastal Commissioners to:
1) PUBLICLY discuss the reasons for proposing the termination of the Executive Director, and to
2) PUBLICLY vote on the Executive Director’s termination.

The Chief Counsel’s memo eliminates the argument of those commissioners who claim they can neither identify nor discuss the reasons for their desire to terminate him. Nor can they deny the public the right to observe deliberations and vote on this important issue. To date, not a single reason, fact or document has been officially offered by those Commissioners seeking to fire the Executive Director. This new legal memo now allows those commissioners seeking his termination the opportunity to state and justify their reasons in public and to conduct their deliberations and an open public vote, in front of the audience at Wednesday’s public hearing.

This memo has to potential to transform how the Commission’s public hearing is conducted on Wednesday’s Feb. 10th in Morro Bay. The 20,000+ people that have submitted comments to the Commission in support of the Executive Director will now likely expect the Commission to commit to fully engage in a both a public discussion over the reasons for considering his dismissal and a public deliberation and vote on his possible termination.

KEY LEGAL POINT: The Chief Counsel’s Feb. 6th memo to the Commission, posted on the Commission website at: states in part:

“At the conclusion of the public testimony, the Commission may deliberate and vote in either open or closed session, or some combination of both. If the Commission takes an action to dismiss the executive director in closed session, it must publicly report the roll call vote when it reconvenes in open session afterwards. (Gov. Code, §§ 11122, 11125.2, 11126.3(f).)”

NO MORE EXCUSES: Various Commissioners, appointed by Governor Brown, seeking to terminate the Executive Director, have made statements like the following:

“Dr. Lester has not waived his rights to confidentiality regarding his performance reviews, closed sessions discussions with the Commission, nor his evaluations. Unless he chooses to do so, I don’t believe the Commission can deliberate in public.”

Commissioner Erik Howell (statement to Betty Winholtz)

The Chief Counsel’s memo invalidates the second sentence in this Commissioner’s statement.

PERFORMANCE ISSUES THAT CAN BE PUBLICLY DEBATED THIS WEDNESDAY: The Commissioner’s seeking Dr. Lester’s dismissal have offered no public reasons other than a few vague anonymous statements about lack of leadership, vision, communications and slow progress on implementing diversity of staff. Not a single fact, statistic or document has been offered by those Commissioners seeking his dismissal.

Dr. Lester’s Feb. 5th memo to the Commission, posted on the Commission’s website at: attempts to frame these unspecified issues. The opening pages of Dr. Lester’s memo identifies three performance issues.
1) Communications and Agency Operations
2) Agency Diversity and Recruitment
3) Commission Goals and Direction

The Coastal Act’s Right of Full Public Participation: Those Commissioner’s seeking the Executive Director’s termination have now been given the legal right if not the responsibility to step forward and publicly clarify reasons for seeking his termination. Many members of the public will travel hundreds of miles to Morro Bay to testify on Wednesday. The news media has covered this issue extensively. They have a right to understand the issues upon which this important decision will be made.

The Coastal Act grants the public the right to fully participate in decisions affecting the coast. See:

Section 30006 Legislative findings and declarations; public participation The Legislature further finds and declares that the public has a right to fully participate in decisions affecting coastal planning, conservation and development; that achievement of sound coastal conservation and development is dependent upon public understanding and support; and that the continuing planning and implementation of programs for coastal conservation and development should include the widest opportunity for public participation.