DA rebukes harbor board member Brennan over open meetings law

Daily Post Staff Writer

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday (Jan. 18) reprimanded county harbor commissioner member Sabrina Brennan over the state open meetings law, telling her it is “not optional for public officials.”

In a letter to Brennan and her attorney, Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato faulted her for what he called her lack of “recognition” that her acts in a meeting last year would result in a violation of the state open-meeting law, the Brown Act.

“While your (attorney, Paul DeMeester’s) assurance that Commissioner Brennan will not comport herself in this fashion again is a factor in our decision to take no further action, her insistence that she was deprived of her rights as a member of the public, without any apparent recognition that her actions would have resulted in a Brown Act violation if allowed to continue, is further troubling,” Serrato wrote.

Serrato said, however, that he would not be bringing any charges against Brennan following a months-long investigation. The investigation had been opened after Brennan participated in an Aug. 2 meeting in South San Francisco when two members of the City Council met with two members of the Harbor Commission. The four-member committee met to discuss a development agreement for the Oyster Point Marina, which is in South San Francisco but managed by the Harbor District.

When Brennan decided to participate in the meeting, it put the Harbor Commission in the position of violating the Brown Act because her fellow Commissioners Tom Mattusch and Virginia Chang Kiraly were also present and participating in the meeting.

At the meeting, Brennan repeatedly demanded time to speak even though the harbor district’s attorney, Steven Miller, told her not to participate before the meeting and again during it. Harbor Commissioner Mattusch also said the committee didn’t want to hear from her.

Meeting adjourned

The meeting was prematurely adjourned when South San Francisco Councilman Mark Addiego and Kiraly walked out of the meeting because of Brennan’s participation. Brennan had said throughout the meeting that she could make comments as a member of the public.

Brennan was barred from participating in the meeting because it would have resulted in a quorum for the five-member harbor commission. That was a problem because it would have required a different notice for the meeting 72 hours ahead of time.

Anytime three members of a five-member elected board have a meeting, it must be publicized in advance as a public meeting, under the Brown Act.

Close call

Serrato in his letter says that had the meeting not been adjourned, it likely would have resulted in a violation of the Brown Act.

Serrato’s letter also says that the public has the right to expect its representatives to know and conduct themselves properly under the Brown Act.

DeMeester in two letters sent to Serrato argued that the Aug. 2 meeting was not properly noticed for the harbor commissioners present, thus putting Kiraly and Mattusch in the same boat. He also argued that an amendment of the joint powers agreement between the district and South San Francisco makes the committee a “group” and is not a “legislative body” bound by the Brown Act.

Serrato in his letter says whether or not the committee is in fact a legislative body, Brennan’s insistent comments at the meeting created a “de facto” meeting of the Harbor District.