D.A. Opines Against Aaron Starr’s Brown Act Complaint on Oxnard Mayor Flynn’s Public Comments Restriction

Mayoral Candidate Aaron Starr faces off with Mayor Tim Flynn in an earlier confrontation. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

By George Miller

Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Hughes rejected a Brown Act complaint lodged by Oxnard Mayoral Candidate Aaron Starr against Mayor Tim Flynn, for denying him the right to publicly comment on comments made by Council Members during the City Reports section of the 10-16-18 City Council meeting.

This was done over the objection of City Attorney Stephen Fischer, who was unsure, but sought to err on the side of caution in favor of the public’s right to be heard. Starr lodged a complaint to the DA almost immediately that evening, electronically, while still at the meeting, then followed up in a 10-20-18 letter to Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten.

In contrast, Flynn opined that it would create a situation of extended discussion of a non-agendized topic, which he had been cited by the DA for recently. Hughes evidently agreed with Flynn and elaborated on his logic employed to decide this (see attached 10-30-18 letter: DA.Response to Aaron Starr Brown Act Complaint 10-30-18 ).

A key paragraph from that letter:

We asked Mayor Flynn his opinion on all of this. Since he was the one who sent us the letter, we had a pretty good idea beforehand.  He said Starr had an “I caught ya attitude” on this matter, but he and the DA’s office disagreed. He added that Starr may be too detailed, which people in his line of work sometimes tend to be, then the big picture gets lost.

Starr did not stoop to personal attacks, preferring to contest Flynn’s failure to allow him to speak, which he says the law allows a meeting chair the discretion to grant and the DA response actually concedes that. He said that Brown Act restrictions apply more to elected officials than the public.  He felt that First Amendment/freedom of speech should prevail.

We discussed the question of exactly how much Council Member discussion constitutes a violation of the Briown Act and weren’t sure. Both of us agreed that no votes could be taken or decisions to act on could be done without being agendized.


Original complaint:

From: Aaron Starr <[email protected]>
Date: October 16, 2018 at 7:43:38 PM PDT
To: [email protected]
Cc: [email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected]
Subject: Brown Act Violation Complaint

Dear Mr. Hughes,

At approximately 7:25 pm this evening, I was denied the opportunity to speak on an item listed on the Oxnard City Council agenda. The city attorney advised that I be able to speak but Mayor Tim Flynn directed that I not be allowed to speak.

Please review in light of the Brown Act and advise.

Thank you.
Aaron Starr


Follow-up Letter from Starr

From: <[email protected]>
Date: October 20, 2018 at 3:16:21 PM PDT
To: “‘Hughes, Chuck'” <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: Brown Act Violation Complaint

Hello Mr. Hughes,

Thank you for looking into this.

The entire video of the meeting is posted on the city council’s website:

My time stamp references below are relative to the city’s posted video. I
hope this makes your task easier.

Agenda Item G (city manager’s report) begins at 01:29:35 – City Manager Alex
Nguyen spoke briefly about a visit to the State Controller’s Office to
discuss their oversight of our terrible audits.  Mr. Nguyen indicated he’d
defer to Councilmember Carmen Ramirez to discuss that.

Agenda Item H (council member reports) begins at 01:30:29. Carmen Ramirez
speaks about the State Controller Office visit at time stamp 01:33:48.  Her
comments on the progress made in cleaning up the city’s finances were in
conflict with previous statements made by staff, so I wanted to address that
subject. If given the opportunity, I would have also liked to have commented
in response to Mayor Flynn’s advocacy of a new gang injunction and creation
of an intervention program at time stamp 1:40:15. I could not possibly be
expected to know they were going to mention these subjects during their
reports.  It’s not reasonable to say my only opportunity to respond to that
information was under agenda item F for public comments on items not on the
agenda, before these statements concerning city business were even made.

Mayor Flynn refuses to let me comment on agenda item H at time stamp
01:41:56, claiming it’s not agendized, though it was sufficiently agendized
for Ms. Ramirez and Mr. Flynn to speak. City Attorney Stephen Fischer
recommended that I be able to comment, but Mayor Flynn did not heed his

Later on Agenda Item L-1 (temporary emergency shelter), I was recognized for
public comment at time stamp 02:12:05.  When I mentioned that I sent an
email to the District Attorney about being denied the chance to speak on
Item H, Flynn accused me of violating the Brown Act. It’s my understanding
that the Brown Act was more designed to limit private or unagendized
discussions amongst council members, while protecting the rights of citizens
to participate.

Aaron Starr

George Miller is Publisher and Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard. 

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Brown Act very difficult to prosecute. Rarely done. Kudos to Starr for his vigilance.