The California Attorney General recently determined that a member of the governing board of a joint powers agency may vote on a matter before the agency in a manner that is inconsistent with the position taken by the legislative body that appointed the member. (___ Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen.___(Dec.8, 2000).)
Ventura County and the Cities of Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, and San Buenaventura formed the South Coast Area Transit (“SCAT”) pursuant to the Joint Exercise of Powers Act (the “Act”) (Gov. Code §§ 6500-6599). SCAT was formed to operate a public transportation system within the geographical boundaries of its member agencies. The Act authorizes the parties (here, the county and cities) to create “an agency or entity which is separate from the parties to the agreement and is responsible for the administration of the agreement.” Pursuant to this provision of the Act, a board of directors of five members governs SCAT, one from each of the party members.
The question before the Attorney General arose when one of the city representatives on SCAT’s board of directors voted in favor of an additional expenditure of agency funds despite a contrary position taken by the city council of his city. Recognizing that a government official may not act in excess of his or her authority, the Attorney General determined that the board member’s vote, although contrary to the position of the city council, was not an action in excess of his authority. Thus, the vote was valid. According to the Attorney General, the board member had authority to exercise his own discretion when voting.
The Attorney General further determined that nothing in the Act, the SCAT agreement, or the city’s ordinances required the board member to vote only as directed by the city council. The Attorney General stated that a city council could best assure compliance with its wishes by removing the appointed person (who serves "at the pleasure" of the governing board).
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