CalAware - Costa Mesa 'Working Groups" Violate Brown Act
ME - "A BROWN ACT VIOLATION?"
More than a month ago I wrote to Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch citing a section of the Ralph M. Brown Act that appeared to validate my contention that the City Council Working Groups - two-person sub-committees of the City Council - were in violation of the Brown Act. He, appropriately, handed it off to new City Attorney Tom Duarte for handling.
DUARTE - "NO"
Subsequently Duarte advised me that the committees were "ad hoc" committees and, as such, were not subject to the Brown Act.
ME - "BUT THE AG SAYS"... DUARTE - "NO"
Shortly thereafter I sent to Hatch and Duarte a copy of a 1996 ruling by the California Attorney General at the time which seemed to contradict Duarte's view. The response was the same - our Working Groups were "ad hoc" and not subject to the Brown Act.
"CALIFORNIANS AWARE" LETTER
Yesterday a letter was sent from Mr. Terry Francke, General Counsel of Californians Aware, The Center For Public Forum Rights to Mayor Gary Monahan with copies to the remainder of the City Council, Hatch and (apparently in error) Kimberley Hall Barlow, former City Attorney.
WORKING GROUPS DO VIOLATE BROWN ACT
In this letter Mr. Francke cites the same section of the Brown Act I referenced in my earlier correspondence to Hatch and advises that our Working Groups ARE subject to the Brown Act. Near the end of his two-page letter Mr. Francke says the following:
"While the Working Groups are intended to report their recommendations to the full Council in open session, and while Working Group members are apparently being advised not to communicate with non-members on the matters under study, the fact remains that if the group's meetings are private, the public will have no sense (unless it is told) of just what avenues were explored, what options were examined and discounted or discarded, or who met with the group in guiding its inquiries or formulating its proposals. The public will be presented with a package to react to, and one with weeks or months of momentum behind it by the time it reaches the Council, needing only one of three voters to be approved."
COMPLY OR ELSE...
Mr. Francke is obviously quite serious about this issue because his final paragraph reads as follows:
"Please take the necessary steps to see that the Working Groups begin immediately to comply with the Brown Act. And please consider that the Council's failure to do so will result in my recommendation to our Litigation Committee that we seek the appropriate court order(s) to ensure such compliance."
PLACE IT ON THE AGENDA
This morning I sent a note to Tom Hatch and Tom Duarte referring them to Mr. Francke's letter and requesting them to place the question of the Working Groups on the next City Council agenda - next Tuesday, May 17th.
ALL ACTIONS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED NULL AND VOID
Further, I suggested to them that, assuming the Attorney General opinion from 1996 and Mr. Francke's opinion are valid, that any actions taken by the City Council based on the illegal deliberations of the Working Groups since their inception should be considered null and void. That includes the entire Outsourcing plan and the 6-month notices that were issued as a result, which should immediately be rescinded.
I'm not quite sure what to expect from this communication. I'm not threatening the City Council - Mr. Francke is, though. I suspect we'll hear a lot of push-back on this subject from Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, since they don't like to be told by ANYONE that they can't do something they've got their minds set on.
IT'S OK TO START OVER
I hope they come to their senses and finally comply with the Brown Act. If they have to start all over with their ill-conceived outsourcing scheme, well, that's OK with me. They've been moving way, way too fast as it is. They can always re-start the clock on the 6-month notices, which will probably be better in the long run. According to Hatch in the Study Session last night, the preparation of the RFPs for possible outsourcing of 17 departments has been moving at a hectic pace. This delay will give the staff a chance to do this right, and for a proper analysis to be done of those responses the city might receive, and for a proper, thorough comparison of those submissions to the costs of retaining the work in-house. We owe the employees that much, for goodness sake.
SAD FOR HUY PHAM AND OTHERS
Sadly, I cannot close this without a feeling of deep sadness for Huy Pham, the young employee who took his life as his 6-month notice was about to be presented to him, and for his family and all his friends in The City. I also feel a deep sadness for those other employees who chose to move on rather than continue to lay on the tracks, waiting for this runaway train to run over them. Their skills and dedication will certainly be missed regardless how this whole drama works out.