Opinion

Tuesday, May 22 2012 11:07 PM

DA right to take closer look at closed sessions

By The Bakersfield Californian

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green is to be commended for acknowledging that her duties go beyond the prosecution of crime, violent and otherwise.

The DA's office also has a responsibility to make sure local government agencies are fulfilling their obligations under state law. And, in the case of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, there is some question as to whether the state's open-meeting law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, is being routinely skirted.

One could make that case, given what we know about the board's almost-weekly closed-session meetings with County Administrative Officer John Nilon, ostensibly to review his job performance.

Either Nilon is undergoing the most rugged job performance evaluation since the Watergate hearings or there's something going on behind closed doors that involves county business that ought to be discussed in the light of public scrutiny.

If there's a third possibility, Green's office is in a unique position to find out what it is -- and determine whether it qualifies for an exemption from open discussion.

So far, these closed-session meetings with Nilon have produced no discernable conclusions about his performance; invariably "no reportable action" is the stated outcome, according to the board's minutes.

Nilon's closed-door job evaluation was listed on the board's Tuesday agenda at least 33 times during one recent 43-meeting stretch. Nilon was listed as a closed-session item on all but 10 of those meetings, as well as four of 20 Monday meetings. Similarly, Kern Medical Center boss Paul Hensler has been subjected to the same sort of grueling job performance schedule as Nilon: He has been evaluated in closed session at least 14 times during a 20-meeting span.

The Brown Act is law because the public's business is supposed to be conducted in public, with only a narrow set of exemptions. To flout that law is unacceptable. The DA's office is right to take a closer look.

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