Fresno Housing Authority

The American Civil Liberties Union has stepped into the controversy surrounding the Fresno Housing Authority’s plans to edit the minutes of a summer board meeting.

In a letter to the board, the ACLU of Northern California warns that if the Housing Authority carries through with its plans, it could lead to “unlawfully suppressing the voices of community members by deleting selected comments from its written public record.”

The Housing Authority board voted 11-1 at its July meeting to support Commissioner Cary Catalano’s motion to delay approval of the June 23 minutes until the August meeting, “so staff and general counsel could review them again.”

Catalano said he had “some concerns about the narrative and the tone of the minutes” which contained comments from community organizations scrutinizing the contract between the Housing Authority and the Fresno Police Department, He described the comments as “less than flattering” and “personal in nature.”

Some of the “unflattering” comments were made by representatives of the Central Valley Urban Institute, Fresno Barrios Unidos, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, Black Women for Wellness and Faith in the Valley in response to the prospects of renewing the housing agency’s 30-year contract to provide security services for the authority’s buildings. The contract expired on June 30.

Representatives of some of those groups criticized the board’s plan during public comment at the July meeting.

The ACLU letter is dated Aug. 19 and signed by Angélica Salceda, democracy and civic engagement program director. Salceda cites state law that “the Brown Act requires legislative bodies to ‘provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item.’”

The Housing Authority board’s plan to alter the minutes, the letter states, “not only runs counter to sound public policy and government transparency, but also runs afoul of the spirit” of the state open-meeting law and the First Amendment.

The ACLU requested that the board responds by Aug. 25 on whether it will move forward with deleting certain comments from its June 23 meeting minutes.

Brandi Johnson, communications manager at the Fresno Housing authority said that the agency is “currently reviewing the ACLU letter and will respond to them.”

Dympna Ugwu-Oju is the editor of the Fresnoland Lab at The Fresno Bee, a team of journalists focused on reporting stories at the intersection of housing, water, neighborhoods and inequality.

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