They’re called “cure and correct letters,” and they’re the latest tool local activist Steve Petzold is using to effect change.
So far, Petzold, 61, has had some success. Two school districts acknowledged Petzold was the impetus for making a change to their website to comply with state law. A third district did not directly credit Petzold, but evidence shows changes were made after Petzold wrote the letters.
For Petzold, it’s just another day being a lone watchdog.
“I reside in all three of the districts, and I feel, as a resident, I have a civic obligation and duty to watch what’s going on,” he said. “If no one watches, the taxpayers may be abused.”
Petzold’s latest crusade stems from the Brown Act, which governs meetings conducted by local legislative bodies and presumes public access unless specifically excepted. An addendum that went into effect January 1 requires that all meetings subject to the Act post a link to the latest agenda on their website homepage.
The law further says that any person may demand in writing, within 30 days of the meeting, that the legislative body “cure and correct” any action taken at a meeting whose agenda wasn’t properly linked on the homepage. That usually means the actions are declared null and void and have to be revisited during future meetings. The legislative body then has 30 days to respond.
Petzold first set his sights on College of the Canyons, a district with which he has a long history that includes complaining about bond Measure E, making a video in which he fired an air rifle at a district map while wearing a black T-shirt with an illustration of a helmet from the movie “300” and two machine guns crossed to look like a skull and bones; resulting in having a restraining order placed against him.
In a Feburary 5 letter that was amended and resent February 11, Petzold claimed the COC website did not have a direct link to the agenda for the January 16 board meeting. He wrote similar letters to the William S. Hart Union High School (February 8) and the Saugus Union (March 5) districts, then wrote letters to COC (February 9) and Saugus (March 6) asserting that their bond oversight committees’ lacked links.
He received responses each time. Debbie Dunn, executive assistant to Hart superintendent Vicki Engbrecht, acknowledged the Brown Act violation of no direct link to the January 10 meeting agenda on the district’s home page.
Saugus and COC did not admit to Brown Act violations, but Saugus Public Information Officer Lee Morrell said Petzold’s letter caused the district to add links called “Board Agendas” and “Measure EE Agendas” on its homepage.
“If a person felt uncomfortable that it wasn’t delivering what they needed it to deliver, then we should try and find a solution that better delivered what our constituent needs,” Morrell said.
The links on COC’s website also became more prominent after Petzold wrote his letters. Vice President of Public Information, Advocacy & External Relations Eric Harnish would not acknowledge Petzold was the reason, however.
“You can read into it what you want,” Harnish said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
Petzold sent the Gazette Harnish’s response letters that included, “The link has recently been made more prominent.”
Petzold acknowledges that it’s not always easy being the only one loudly keeping these legislative bodies honest. “I feel like I’ve sacrificed somewhat on a personal and business level for bringing up some of these things,” the Realtor said. “My wife said, ‘You’re supposed to be making friends.’ ”
He isn’t, and while no one said they dislike him to his face, he says he reads body language that says, “Wow, you again? You just won’t go away.”
But that doesn’t mean his efforts aren’t appreciated.
“I don’t consider anyone whose first agenda is to make sure that a governing body like this is doing its job ever to be a pain in the butt,” Morrell said.
And from COC board member Edel Alonso, “I really appreciate a member of the community who demonstrates an interest in the college, and I mean that sincerely.”
So, Petzold will continue to be a muckraker, a one-man opposition crew and a crusading skeptic who doesn’t take anyone’s word for it and continually digs up research for what he considers is the truth.
“It’s a little bit at a time. It’s a little bit at a time,” he said. “When you’re doing what I do, it’s rare that you get a home run.”