Fifteen times this year, the board of supervisors met in private to review the job performance of county administrative officer John Nilon. "It leads to the kind of blurring of what's going on in closed session." Columnist Lois Henry, working on a tip from the Kern Taxpayer's Association, called for a closer look.
"That is where ideas and projects are born or killed, are changed significantly, and that's the public's business and it has be done in the public's eye," adds Henry.
The District Attorney's office concluded supervisors had done nothing illegal. "There's no evidence to support that whatsoever--that they did discuss anything in closed session that they were not permitted to discuss," says Lisa Green, district attorney.
The investigation into the board could have gone two ways--a civil case involving court-ordered changes, or even a criminal path that could have resulted in charges against board members.
Certainly a flagrant violation could have been one that would have qualified for a misdemeanor prosecution. The D.A.'s investigation found supervisors often ran out of time in closed session and Nilon's performance review was delayed.
Still, the district attorney says the practice of putting Nilon's review on the agenda as a placeholder gave the appearance supervisors were keeping something from the public.
And she says that practice should change. "You can report out in some fashion, for example, employee evaluation undertaken something as simple as that will satisfy the public's concern what they said they were going to discuss was discussed in closed session," adds Green.
And it's a welcome change for skeptics like Lois Henry. "Just do that and stop with the shenanigans, or the appearance of shenanigans and then people like me won't think they are doing shenanigans and it's very simple."