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Flynn's Backers Lash Out

Supporters of Ventura County supervisor demand that his access to some staff be restored.

November 09, 2005|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

The Ventura County supervisors' battle with one of their own intensified Tuesday when supporters of Supervisor John Flynn filled a hearing room to demand that restrictions on Flynn's access to certain county staff be removed.

During a tense and sometimes unruly two-hour session, supporters accused the board of overstepping its authority in stripping the veteran supervisor of the ability to meet privately with county Harbor Department staff.

By singling out Flynn for restricted access, the board had punished not only the supervisor but the Oxnard residents he represents, said several speakers, some of whom wore surgical masks with the words "no public voice" written across them.

"When you handicap John Flynn, you handicap me and my family," said Brian Serros, who lives in the La Colonia neighborhood. "I can't take that lightly."

Four of the five supervisors approved the restriction Nov. 1 after Flynn publicly accused Harbor Director Lyn Krieger of giving a "sweetheart deal" to a marina leaseholder at Channel Islands Harbor near Oxnard. The deal involved a "payoff," Flynn said at the Oct. 25 board meeting.

Since then, he has refused to provide evidence of the accusation. On Tuesday, he told a reporter that he would present his case to the grand jury or the district attorney's office within a week.

Board members said they were forced to act because Flynn's accusations and ongoing pressure on county Harbor Department staff was exposing the county to potential litigation. Flynn can still gather information about the harbor, which is in his district, they said.

But if he meets with Krieger or other Harbor Department staff, a witness from the county executive's office must also be present. The board also said that employees no longer must consult first with Flynn on matters concerning the harbor.

Tuesday's hearing, requested by Flynn, was intended to review the legality of the board's actions. Flynn suggested that open-meeting laws were violated before the board's Nov. 1 vote on the motions limiting his harbor staff interaction.

A Power Point presentation by Supervisor Steve Bennett on that day showed that the motions were planned in advance, Flynn said. State law prohibits vote-gathering in advance of a meeting or conversations about board agenda items by more than two supervisors.

"How much notice did the other supervisors have regarding the motions in question?" Flynn said. "What happened last week smacks of collusion."

Supervisors and county counsel Noel Klebaum said there was no evidence of a Brown Act violation. By making the allegation, Bennett said, Flynn was attempting to throw up a smokescreen over the actions that led to his rebuke.

"Supervisor Flynn, it is time for you to offer your evidence" on the harbor accusations, Bennett said Tuesday. "It has been 14 days since the charge was made ... and it's time for that to be brought forward."

The two-hour hearing drew about 200 people and came to a halt within 15 minutes when audience catcalls became so loud that board Chairwoman Kathy Long called a recess.

Bennett was telling the crowd that Flynn had yet to produce evidence of any wrongdoing when Flynn broke in:

"Would you give evidence to this group?" he asked audience members, motioning to his board colleagues.

"No! No! No!" the crowd responded.

"If you want a mob, you'll get one," shouted one man, who later identified himself only as Neal.

When she was unable to restore order, Long called the recess. After a minute, the board attempted to continue but was again drowned out by the crowd's shouting.

The board then recessed into a 45-minute closed session that had been previously scheduled. Flynn used the break to hold a rally-style meeting with his supporters outside the county Government Center in Ventura.

Flanked by a rabbi, a Catholic priest, two nuns and leaders of various Oxnard interest groups, he thanked his supporters for coming and urged them to attend next week's meeting.

"This building belongs to you, and they think they own it!" Flynn said of his colleagues.

When the hearing resumed, the crowd was calmer as the board again explained its position and heard their concerns.

Many of the speakers said they own boats and are upset by 30% increases in slip rentals being imposed by new leaseholders at the harbor. Others protested that restrictions on supervisors should be applied equally, not to just one board member.

"I feel my representative has been discriminated against by your actions," said Karen Papcke, who said she kept a boat at the harbor for 30 years. "If you feel this action is required, it should be required of all of you."

But the board did not back down or change its position. Supervisor Linda Parks said that if another board member makes unfounded charges, the board would act similarly to protect employees.

Parks said she has frequently been an ally of Flynn on harbor-related issues. But Flynn's allegations about Krieger "crossed the line," she said.

"That is not a decent thing to do," Parks said. "That's what I would say is harassment. Someone on our staff was publicly harassed."

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