What Nelson Oliva And NEO Consulting Mean To California’s Brown Act

Nelson Oliva

Nelson Oliva

First, Soledad. Second, Lompoc. It turns out that former Hercules City Manager Nelson Oliva “moonlighted” for NEO Consulting while he was still employed by the City of Hercules.

Contra Costa Times‘ Tom Lochner has reported nonstop on how the ineptitude of Oliva and the city’s then-City Council helped lead Hercules’ current financial struggles. The newspaper published repeated editorials on the subject, including an upcoming recall for the two remaining old guard council members Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward. Now, it calls for prosecution.

The stoplight briefly lifted from Oliva until Lochner reported on Oliva’s dealings (alongside Mike Sakamoto) during a Soledad City Council meeting on April 15, 2009 (reported April 22, 2011) and during a Lompoc City Council meeting on May 18, 2010 (reported May 5, 2011).

Ralph M. Brown Act

I won’t rehash the implications. I instead wanted to draw attention to what these two episodes mean to California’s Ralph M. Brown Act. One particular Brown Act requirement is the posting of local government meeting agendas and minutes.

For example, if you wanted to read the minutes for the April 15, 2009 Soledad City Council meeting, the minutes are posted on the city’s website. If you also wanted to read the minutes for the May 18, 2010 Lompoc City Council meeting, the minutes are posted on the city’s website as well.

There’s a major difference between the two documents. The Soledad meeting minutes document is a scanned PDF. The Lompoc meeting minutes document is a published PDF. In a nutshell, the Soledad document is basically treated as an image or something similar and is rendered unsearchable; the Lompoc document is wholly searchable, and more importantly accessible via Internet search engines.

Go ahead, google “site: www.ci.soledad.ca.us nelson oliva” and look at the results. Nothing.

site: www.ci.soledad.ca.us nelson oliva

Now, google “site: www.cityoflompoc.com nelson oliva” and look at the results.

site: www.cityoflompoc.com nelson oliva

The fourth item should be (as I received) a result for a document from the City of Lompoc’s municipal website. No such item showed up for Soledad, as far as I could see.

Meeting agendas and minutes documents are great to have. The public has a right to know what goes on during these meetings, especially if a citizen cannot personally attend those meetings; however, my biggest complaint is that the law doesn’t specify the format of the documents. I’ve received such public documents as published PDFs (great), scanned PDFs (terrible), and Word documents (great, too). However, these documents could serve such more use if there made available in a much more accessible (i.e., searchable and viewable from search engines), then it would give the public greater ability to be informed.

Economic Downturn

The economic downturn certainly hasn’t helped local governments as thin budgets forced layoffs in most local offices, especially for city and county clerks (those responsible for things like agendas). Scanned PDFs are quick and easy. I don’t fault the inability or incapability of some offices to not get published PDFs or use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to convert scanned PDFs into searchable text. (Note: there are free alternatives out there.) But as the situation in Hercules highlights (in addition to the wonderful ills of redevelopment), more can be done with the Brown Act to make documents like City Council meeting minutes searchable and viewable in the search world.

Lochner’s articles don’t say how he came to those meeting minutes. Seems like a miracle, but it would be a lot easier if you could search for the documents and search within them too.

Nelson Oliva

Note: The City of Hercules still has Oliva’s biography (as City Manager) page still active. It hasn’t been updated since January 13, 2011.

[photos via City Of Hercules | Hercules Chamber Of Commerce]

City Of Soledad

City of Soledad – April 15, 2009 City Council Special and Regular Meeting Minutes

City Of Lompoc

City of Lompoc May 5, 2010 City Council Regular Meeting Minutes

Update

Added a searchable version of the Soledad City Council Meeting Minutes.

City Of Soledad (Searchable)

City of Soledad – April 15, 2009 City Council Special and Regular Meeting Minutes (Searchable)