That Time In 2018 When Wallis Locke Told Ellen Riotto How The South Park BID Could Just Ignore The Brown Act By Putting Some Magic Words On The Agenda — Cause The Foothill Municipal Water District Did It — So Anyone Could Do It — Even The South Park BID — But Then Ellen Riotto — Being Uncharacteristically Prudent — Asked Carol Humiston If It Was OK — And Carol Humiston Was All Like No Freaking Way That Is Crazy! — Except She Said It Nicer Cause After All They Are Paying Her A Lot Of Damn Money!

It’s basically very easy for public government agencies such as business improvement districts to comply with the Brown Act. All they have to do is not be sneaky and stop trying to hide what they’re doing from the public. But of course, that concept is actually impossible for BIDdies to understand, so they’re perennially surprised by what the law requires of them. The general zillionaire rule of statutory interpretation, which is to assume that laws do in fact say whatever rich white people imagine that they ought to say, is accurate 99.99% of the time, but it fails with the Brown Act for some reason.1

Which is why about this time last year we were spending a lot of blog time educating Ellen Riotto, executive directrix of the South Park BID, about the duties required of her organization by the Brown Act. She’d schedule a closed session but wouldn’t explain what the Board was going to talk about during it and I’d be like no, can’t do that, and she’d be like OK thank you for pointing that out! And then she’d be all like board members are going to phone into the meeting from random unannounced locations around the globe and I’d be like no, can’t do that, and she’d be like OK thank you for pointing that out!

And now, thanks to some emails kindly supplied to me in response to a request for public records by the South Park BIDdies, I can reveal for the first time that there was at least one other instance in early 2018 when Ellen Riotto completely misunderstood the Brown Act and was on the verge of implementing yet another completely illegal policy. Wallis Locke sent an email to Ellen Riotto and was all like I know a guy named Dan and he’s involved with the Foothill Municipal Water District and they have some kind of voodoo on their agendas that basically lets them talk about whatever they want to without having to announce it publicly in advance!

And Ellen Riotto was all like I wanna get me some of that! The voodoo, by the way, has to do with the fact that the Brown Act at §54954.2(b) allows public government agencies like BIDs to make last minute additions to their agendas if there is an actual emergency. However, in this case, maybe because my constant scrutiny made her a little more circumspect, she decided to ask the BID’s attorney Ms. Carol Humiston if her theory was a good one.

And Ms. Humiston, despite the fact that she’s famous for counseling her clients to violate the law at every opportunity in contravention of the enforceable expectations of both God and the California State Bar, was all like WHOA! Emergencies mean like earthquakes, fires, and so on! Not some booshwah that you just made up! You can’t freaking do that and you would be crazy even to try so step back from the ledge! And Ellen Riotto was like darn it! But step back from the ledge she did, leaving nothing but this email conversation, a transcription of which you can find after the break!

The story starts with this little number:

From: Wallis Locke <wallis@southpark.la>
Date: Monday, May 14, 2018 at 3:48 PM
To: Ellen Riotto <ellen@southpark.la>
Subject: Additions to the Agenda

I can’t remember if we ever asked Carol about adding this. Here is a link to one of Dan’s agendas – it includes the relevant section of code.

If we’re good to go I’ll add it to the agenda templates!

Wallis Locke

Director of Communications & Policy

And apparently no one had in fact asked Carol if this was OK, because Ellen Salome Riotto turned around and asked her!

From: Ellen Riotto <ellen@southpark.la>
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 3:02 PM
To: Carol Humiston <chumiston@bglawyers.com>
Subject: FW: Additions to the Agenda

Hi Carol,

I’m wondering if we might be able to include a standard line on our agendas that would essentially allow us to add last minute items. The link below is an example from a local water district.

Let me know your thoughts!

Ellen

And Carol Humiston was all like did you even read the damn code section?! No, actually, that’s not how one treats paying clients, so Carol Humiston was all like gee I guess I can see how you might think that but in reality NO FREAKING WAY:

From: Carol Humiston <chumiston@bglawyers.com>
Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 3:26 PM
To: Ellen Riotto <ellen@southpark.la>
Subject: RE: Additions to the Agenda

Hi Ellen,

Are you referring to this statement on that agenda:

Preliminary Matters 1.1 Additions to Agenda (as required by Gov. Code 54954.2)

If so, I presume they are referring to California Government Code § 54954.2(b). I suppose a water district might have circumstances that would permit an item for consideration not on the agenda, but it is pretty hard to meet the standard.

Your Board may discuss a non-agenda item at a regular meeting if, by majority vote of the Board (or upon a determination by a two-thirds vote of the members of the Board present at the meeting, or, if less than two-thirds of the members are present, a unanimous vote of those members present, that there is a need to take immediate action and that the need for action came to the attention of the local agency subsequent to the agenda being posted), the Board determines that the item in question constitutes an “emergency.” An emergency is a crippling activity, work stoppage, or other activity which impairs public health, safety or both. If there is a dire emergency, defined as a crippling disaster, mass destruction, terrorist act, or threatened terrorist activity, etc., you still need to give telephone notice, at least one hour before the meeting, to all media entities that have requested to receive notice of any special meeting.

I can go into further details if you need it, but “emergency” is hard to meet, and if there is a “dire emergency,” I would suggest you get out of town and not hold a meeting at all. But you can put it on your agenda, just please be very, very, very cautious in using it.

Carol

And Ellen Riotto gets the point. One of her greatest talents is being able to take advice. And she’s learning to ask for it before stepping off the ledge. So I guess that’s good!

From: Ellen Riotto <ellen@southpark.la>
Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 3:42 PM
To: Carol Humiston <chumiston@bglawyers.com>
Cc: Wallis Locke <wallis@southpark.la>
Subject: Re: Additions to the Agenda

Understood. Sounds like it’s not worth it. Thanks for the info.

And Wallis Locke is all like got it! Because walking it back is what you gotta do!

So that’s a no… “dire emergency” is quite the standard.

Wallis Locke

Director of Communications & Policy

And that’s the story, for what it’s worth. To close I will say that although I think the South Park BID, like all of our Los Angeles BIDs, is really nothing more than an anti-human criminal conspiracy unaccountably funded by public money in contravention of decency and good public policy, nevertheless I do appreciate their willingness to release material such as this in response to public records act requests. It shows a certain je ne sais quoi with respect to transparency that very few other BIDs share. Thanks, Parkies!


Image of Ellen Salome Riotto is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is uxoriously related to this lil public record over here.

  1. And with the California Public Records Act, for the same reason, whatever that reason might be.
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