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Illegal meetings over embattled frontage road?

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POSTED May 12, 2009 1:22 a.m.

RIPON – The political stalemate over a frontage road that three municipal agencies all fail to find common ground on might have just made an unexpected turn.
And this one might involve some legal implications.
During Monday’s meeting of the Ripon Unified Board of Education, parent and resident Paul Femino vented to the trustees during public comment that the two-by-two-by-two meetings that have been held between the school board, the Ripon City Council, and the Ripon Consolidated Fire District haven’t been being played on level ground.
Femino noted that Fire Chief Dennis Van Der Maaten might have skirted the Brown Act – the California statute designed to ensure government business is handled in public – when he asked that members of the media not attend the most recent gathering on April 10.
One reporter who asked not to be named admitted that he had been asked not to sit in on the session – one where Femino said Van Der Maaten responded to the school district’s statement that the Department of Education wouldn’t allow classroom expansion at Ripon High School if the frontage road were to go through by stating that if it didn’t go through he’d see that the expansion still didn’t get approved.
The back-and-forth nature of the argument over the frontage road – that currently runs along the railroad tracks adjacent to Highway 99 along Downtown Ripon and dead-ends at Ripon Christian High – has been raging since long before Superintendent Louise Nan took over the reins of the district.
While the City of Ripon’s website lists the multiple-agency joint meeting held on March 23 where the frontage road issue dominated the discussion, the calendar made no mention of the Good Friday meeting where – according to the blog entry posted on Trustee Mike Fisher’s website – the issues raised by the fire board focused on safety and access while the city has an issue about traffic circulation on Main Street.
If the plan goes forward as proposed, the district would lose future expansion space, their bus barn, their varsity baseball diamond, and a diesel tank currently on the site.
But Fisher also validated Femino’s concerns with his blog entry when he noted that just because there isn’t a quorum of any one group that the meetings shouldn’t be public (NOTE: A standing committee of an elected body like the joint committee that has been meeting is still subject to the Brown Act.)
“I was told by a reliable source that they were asked by a member of this committee to stay away from this meeting,” Fisher said. “I don’t like that and I’m glad that other members of this committee feel the same way as I do and made sure this was a public meeting.
“The bottom line is that ‘you, the people’ don’t know what happened because the decision to have a public meeting was unclear until the start of the meeting on Friday – by the time it was agreed to have this meeting be public it was too late for interested parties to attend.”

To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com, or call (209) 249-3544.
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