The California Attorney General issued an opinion related to the rights of Joint Powers Authority (JPA) voting members which likely affects all JPAs throughout California.  The question arose where a member of the board of directors was required to recuse himself from voting on an issue because of a conflict of interest.

The subject of this particular opinion was the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which is comprised of 26 individual agencies or municipalities. Some of these member agencies are allotted more than one seat on the board of directors. Those agencies, for example the City of Los Angeles, have their total number of votes proportionally allocated among their members who sit as members of the MWD board of directors for voting purposes. If a director of one of these multi-director agencies is absent from a board meeting, that director’s share of the votes are reallocated among the other directors of the constituent agency on a one time basis.

This opinion clarifies what happens when the director is physically present, but legally precluded from voting on a given issue due to a conflict of interest under the Political Reform Act.  The Attorney General has concluded that in such circumstances the director is deemed legally absent, even if they might be physically present. In this case, the constituent agency’s votes are reallocated among its other directors, thereby ensuring that the agency has not been prevented from casting all of its votes on the particular issue.

How this affects other Joint Powers Authorities across California is likely to vary depending upon unique circumstances of each authority.  However, what this opinion makes clear is that if a voting member of a JPA is legally bound to recuse himself or herself from voting on an issue, despite being physically present at the meeting, they are deemed legally absent from that particular vote and, being treated as such, would trigger any distinct provisions of the JPA regarding how an absent member’s votes are to be handled.

If this is an issue that your agency may be facing in the near future, or to prepare for such an eventuality, our expert attorneys at Cota Cole, LLP are uniquely qualified to advise you on the best way to handle individual situations and how to ensure your agency is equipped to deal with these situation before they arise.  Questions about JPA voting issues may be directed to Scott E. Huber at (916) 780-9009 or shuber@cotalawfirm.com.