Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CalAware - Costa Mesa 'Working Groups" Violate Brown Act

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.


Subsequently Duarte advised me that the committees were "ad hoc" committees and, as such, were not subject to the Brown Act.

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

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.


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.


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.

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Blogger Sally said...

Thanks for following up on this!

5/11/2011 05:05:00 AM  
Blogger feral390 said...

I see a big lawsuit coming...

5/11/2011 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Thank you for your research on the Brown Act violation issue and insistence that the law be adhered to.

If the layoff process has to re-set, I predict Riggy/Menssy will then set fire to the Reichstag.

5/11/2011 06:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Mayor Quimby said...

It's exactly the same pattern that we saw as Dave Ellis and his cronies on the Fair Board attempted to sell the Fairgrounds to themselves.

5/11/2011 06:22:00 AM  
Anonymous mike m said...

Feet to the fire, indeed. Well played, sir... but they won't listen.

5/11/2011 06:28:00 AM  
Anonymous unionquilterscommittee said...

We do not believe it to be a violation of the Brown act. This fellow is just part of some watchdog group looking for publicity. How many times have you heard "brown act violation !!" screamed out recently? Quit crying wolf, people are starting not to listen. AD hoc = no violation. end of story as far as Brown Act. However, it WOULD be much BETTER to adopt formal committees with posted agendas open to the public. We would encourage that. But no Brown Act violation here, no "gift money" violation from painting Hatch's office, no Brown Act violation from eating at Monahan's, etc. Give it a rest folks. Demand open committee meetings yes, but false accusations, no. Thanks Sandy, we know you are behind this, must have found an undotted i.

5/11/2011 07:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

It's actually not a violation of the Brown Act. This is how most legislative bodies work, including our School District, Water Board and Sanitary District. They have committees made up of less than a majority of the Board that handles specific business items, like finance, or personnel, etc. Look at Newport Beach--their City Council handles most of their business in working groups. It's no different than committees. It's pretty clear this group is looking for some publicity. Too bad their information is incorrect.

5/11/2011 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous ConcernedforCM said...

Union Quilters are you saying the Duarte knows more about the law than the Attorney General? That is a pretty bold statement. What legal backing do YOU have in regards to this?

5/11/2011 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Mesa Verde said...

Geoff: Great follow through with a very predicable result. I would guess that these people admitting they are wrong isn't in the cards. Although they may change future meetings by adhereing to the Brown Act, they sure won't retract any decisions made while violating it.
I think a law suit is in the works as well as a recall of Pigheimer. What do you do with the unelelcted member Mensucker when Piggy is gone, unappoint him?
I hope our fine City wakes up soon. We deserve better government than this.

5/11/2011 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...


Californians Aware is a group that has one goal and purpose. To require civic municipalities to adhere to the requirements of the CA constitution mandating open government.

This issue has been given to their litigation team. They will sue for a court order against the City, to stop this bad advice they've been given by newbie Duarte. Kim Barlow predicted this would happen.

Read this little tidbit regarding texting on the dias....

I think we all know who this will be affecting.

The one thing we all knew we would end up paying for is increased attorney fees.......It has begun.

5/11/2011 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Geoff, nice job. Now get ready for a chest bump, a copy cat brick throwing, a lecture and to cap it off being tagged as a communist.

Whether it is or is not a violation, it is great that we have someone watching over the citizens of CM.

I feel the Brown act has been violated, but they WILL spin it. Look at Jennifer, she must only follow the rules and laws that apply to her and her life. Because I think what the AG office is saying is be more transparent. Video tape the meetings and make them public record. This wont happen, because now citizens will see all the kick backs and perks these guys are getting as well. I dont think this will be a slap on the wrist if it continues, maybe force a BK in the city- which is par for the elitest course.

5/11/2011 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous ObservationOpinion said...

Anyone feel like it's beginning to smell like BELL? Another great outsourced $$$ private can't say no to boss man wanna be city attorney. Just how much has this super duper law firm been costing the City since they were hired? Not just the annual fee but also the extra charges for advice, litigation costs, claims .... everything. Has it really been cost effective? Bet the staff just wings it instead of asking for advice.

5/11/2011 09:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Carol Ann said...

Speaking of Huy Pham, does anyone know who those secret witnesses were that supposedly saw him jump to his death?

5/11/2011 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Pentagon Hexagram said...

Well, we can clearly see that the percentage of money spent on public employees will be going down.

Unfortunately, the money spent on attorneys will be skyrocketing. That $137,000 spent last month will seem like a pittance when Costa Mesa starts paying both the legal bills of this watchdog group and their own legal fees.

(When private attorneys step in to enforce open government laws, they are allowed to recover their costs from the losing government agency.)

It's also time to bring in reinforcements for the Costa Mesa Ministry of Propaganda.

5/11/2011 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous attorney generals radar said...

Geoff , This may serve only as a speed bump for the piggy and menaceinger. But, it may also put us on the radar of the Attorney general. Looking into riggy s financials,or menaceing taxes and income, the abuse of power, bullying. lobtellnotruth will need to spin it faster than a texas twister

5/11/2011 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

This morning I heard from Tom Duarte, who advised me in a very brief email that his office is looking into it and he'll get back to me. I find myself wanting to hum the Jeopardy! theme....

5/11/2011 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

I can just imagine the look Kim Barlow is giving him...

5/11/2011 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Oddly quiet........private cell phones across the elected/unelected OCGOPS are vibrating back and forth madly......nary a peep from the underlings.

Our own Republican DA Tony T-Rack has been beating the Brown Act drum loudly against the Capo Unified Board, even though he completly closed his eyes over the Fair Boards same violations....and got called out on it. Righeimer will have him stay out of this.....but will it rise up and bite him? Can Tony turn a blind eye?

Hasn't been a new post on the CM facebook page since Mon afternoon..Absoutely nothing about this on the CM transparency website link.

Reporters across town sit and wait for the higher ups to form their answer,and return the phone calls...all of which will be used against them in court...........literally.

Watching the Budget session last night , I came to a sad conclusion. No one in the city knows what they are doing anymore. The qualified leaders have either left or are leaving. Tom Hatch hasn't a clue how to destroy a city and then re-build it in the short time frame they are expecting. The workload is too crushing and at the end of the day, he knows everything will have to be made public. The City Council is eating up valuable time and resources to make it's case the city isn't working and is unsustainable, all the while making the city unworkable and non-sustaining. The Council doesn't know anything, the consultants don't know anything, the public isn't being told anything, and they want to do it in three months. The staff is completely demoralized, over worked, out looking for new jobs, and probably not going out of their ways to tell these guys their shoes are untied, and their zippers are open.

Jeopardy theme ...indeed.

5/11/2011 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Mesa Verde said...

Has anyone reminded the three little piigys about the DA investigation concerning Brown Act violations committed by the City of garden Grove back in '05? The investigation gave a pretty clear opinion about the same stuff our council is doing on a regular basis at Skosh's.
Sounds to me like we should be on this like Mickey Mantle on a fast ball.

5/11/2011 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian Wilson said...

5/11/2011 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

Great job bankrupting the city Geoff. Reep what you sew.

5/11/2011 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous OCLonghair said...


now that this issue is moving forward, we will be requesting an opinion on the "Conflict of Interest" vote of Steve's in regards to his position as a Board Member of the Estancia Boosters and his vote to extend the sale and use of Fireworks.

Seems that Mr Duarte's opinion on this matter will come into question as well.

5/11/2011 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous F Mallard said...

By the way, the AG also opined on the carrying of badges by non-police officers...the former CM City Attorney warned that City Council being issued badges is a dangerous practice. Maybe he was aware that Mansucker would be appointed and was aware of the Alaskan Airlines incident.

5/11/2011 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Mesa Verde said...

When you do fireworks near the homes of these idiots, please stay on their streets. We're close and I don't need the action over here.

5/11/2011 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous OCLonghair said...

How the HELL are you bankrupting the City?

Here come the personal attacks. It is typical for those who don't have proof or facts to support their "feelings" about an issue; they always resort to attacking one's character.

Geoff, we all know that you are a character, but these attacks are unwarranted.

5/11/2011 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous unionquiltersforleece said...

can't we just get an expert opinion from Genis and go from there? just follow what she and gericault say, they apparently are the experts. Let's not be a petri dish for Brown act violation inquisitions.

5/11/2011 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous legal bloodhound said...

When three elected officials meet (thus making a quorum) and discuss city business without proper posting, they have violated the Brown act. Hasn't anyone read it? It is very clear and doesn't leave room for interpretation.
When Monahan, Righeimer and Mensinger meet at Skosh Monahan's and plan their stance on various issues, it IS a violation of the Brown Act. Watch and see what happens. I suggest you go in there some Saturday evening and see for yourself..Maybe you will even run into thier pick for police chief there as well helping out.

5/11/2011 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Pentagon Hexagram said...

Oddly quiet........private cell phones across the elected/unelected OCGOPS are vibrating back and forth madly......nary a peep from the underlings.

Gericault nails it. They can't blame this on Sandy Genis or the unions. The Attorney General's opinion about what constitutes a legislative body under the Brown Act is crystal clear, so even a two-person committee needs to have public meetings under exactly the circumstances that are happening in Costa Mesa.

Riggy and Messy felt safe because they knew the DA would sit idly by, just as he whitewashed the Fair Board.

But once another group steps up to act as a private attorney general, they know they have a loser on their hands.

So they gotta figure out how to spin this. I'm thinking the Ministry of Propaganda is going to proclaim a new era of Transparency(TM), without admitting wrong.

5/11/2011 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous OCLonghair said...


It is so cute that you think the supporters of the "Lawbenders" would waiste time reading that 130+ page, boaring document. They would rather trust, with blind faith, that they voted for the best available candidates... wait, how did Steve get up there?

5/11/2011 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

If Fitzpatrick were to do housework and laundry for Riggy or Menssy, is that covered under the Brown Act or the Brown NOSE Act?

5/11/2011 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous mike m said...

Anyone wanna hit Skosh's for happy hour tonight?

If they want to be more secretive, though, perhaps they should meet at Madeline's or Hazel's/Tony's Place instead, both located within walking distance. They won't, however, get the 'Mayor's Special' there.

5/11/2011 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Chef Tony said...

Have you tried the food a Skosh's place? Maybe the brick was thrown form the inside.

5/11/2011 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Chef Tony.........thats hilarious.....

5/11/2011 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous cruel and unusual said...

I wouldn't feed that food to my dog... But I like my dog so I need a better example... I wouldn't feed that food to Osama Bin Laden as it would constitute torture worse than the water boarding, slapping, and sleep deprivation techniques the CIA used to employ.

5/12/2011 04:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry... Sandy not involved.

Believe it or not there are others in CM that participate in the process and many of us have an IQ higher than your belt size.

The reason we are hearing "Brown Act Violation" more often these days stems from the increase of blatant abuse by elected officials; the increased awareness, by a larger group of individuals, who have had enough and are exercising their rights to questions the process and decisions which are effecting their lives. Have you not been paying attention?

We are seeing average citizens, stepping up to the microphone (for their allotted 6 minutes a month) and begin their comments with “I have never done this before, but I felt I need to speak up…”

Whichever side of the issue these chose to speak is secondary to what seems to have been lost in all of this “My side, Your side” debate; that this Country was built on and has survived for 235 years with the promise (guarantee) that when Government and/or its elected officials or employees abuse any laws, rule or regulation set forth by the citizens of this Country, we can speak up and challenge those in power; those who willfully and without regard practice deceit.

Hope that answers your question.

5/13/2011 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous unionquiltersforleece said...

anonymous: I posed no question but thanks for answering it anyway. (there was one? see movie: "Stripes" if over you head). Like I said, and you may agree, open, posted meetings would be preferable. I think the Brown Act will not apply here since this is not a regularly scheduled committee. More of an ad hoc. No violation of Brown Act in our opinion. Yes, they can sue us on it and cost the city money even if they lose (like Acosta the anarchist did) but that would just cause more layoffs due to money going to lawyers. Any two council members can meet and talk. They can be an ad hoc, not regularly scheduled committee. They can make recommendations from their study. It can be put on consent calender or agendized. It is up to the other council members to do their own homework and ask questions before voting. They can send it back to committee or agendize it for all. Again, we feel it would have been cleaner to make a formal committee meeting on a regular schedule and take input from anyone who showed up. Unfortunately the nuts and namecallers would show up and nothing would move forward. We believe Genis is involved. We could be wrong. You may believe much of the wrong information being presented by the associations. None of us are right 100% of the time. What does my belt size have to do with it? So your IQ is over 38? Big deal.

5/13/2011 09:14:00 PM  

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