Closed session talks on police union survey pulled from Laguna Beach council agenda

Officers Chelsea Martin, left, and Elizabeth Gutierrez, during a 2018 academy graduation and final inspection where weapons are reviewed to make sure they are unloaded and clean. Photo courtesy of LB Police.

A closed session agenda item on significant exposure to litigation related to a local police union’s survey of employee morale was abruptly removed without discussion from the Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda on Tuesday.

City Attorney Phil Kohn said the discussion was withdrawn and would return at a future date. He offered no explanation for why the closed session item was delayed.

The about-face came after councilmembers and senior city staffers received a Feb. 7 email from a local attorney specializing in public access law, criticizing city officials for deciding to meet behind closed doors without showing a sufficient claim or specific threat of litigation against the City.

James Grossberg, a 26-year Laguna Beach resident who served as principal newsroom counsel for The Orange County Register for more than two decades, wrote the scathing email addressed to the City Council.

“It strains credulity to imagine a legitimate legal claim against the City or one of its officials for anything contained in or even related to the Association survey since the Association is not an official entity of the City, the City presumably played no role in conducting the survey, the survey apparently already has been made public by the Association and it was not created by or provided to the City in confidence as a personnel record,” Grossberg wrote.

Grossberg added that councilmembers must at a minimum require that the City Attorney specifically identify such “facts and circumstances” of potential litigation for the Council to comply with the Brown Act.

Mayor Sue Kempf didn’t immediately respond to a call from a reporter seeking comment about Grossberg’s letter on Wednesday. City Manager Shohreh Dupuis declined to comment for this story.

The local police union has not threatened to sue the City over managers’ responses to its employee morale survey, said Officer Brian Griep, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association.

A survey conducted by the labor union representing Laguna Beach police employees reported poor morale among a cohort of the rank and file, alarming some local officials and policing experts.

Forty employees responded from among 78 police union members who were sent the organization’s survey in October.

Among other findings, police union leaders spotlighted that 72.5% of survey respondents said they definitely would or probably would leave the City for another opportunity.

“Our inability to attract and retain the best people is directly related to the quality of service that we strive to provide to our community. That’s concerning to us, and it should concern our community,” the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association Board of Directors said in a statement.

In a January interview with the Independent over Zoom, Dupuis downplayed that nearly three-quarters of union survey respondents said they definitely would or probably would leave the City for another opportunity.

During her report at the Jan. 25 city council meeting, Dupuis said she cares when any city employee leaves for another job and said the Police Department has assembled a task force of 20 employees of different ranks to get after solutions for issues identified by a city-sponsored survey of police employees conducted by Polco.

This is at least the second time in the past year where Laguna Beach officials have been accused of running afoul of the Brown Act.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office found “substantial evidence” councilmembers failed to properly notify the public of the closed session and scope of the agenda item regarding Hotel Laguna on June 29, 2021. Violations of the Brown Act undermine government transparency and citizens’ faith in their government’s legislative process, Senior Deputy District Attorney Steven Schriver wrote in a letter to city officials.

Public scrutiny of Brown Act-related issues at Laguna Beach City Hall has invited requests from some councilmembers for the entire panel to receive additional training from experts.

“I’ve asked the City for the Council to receive Brown Act training and we’ve yet to receive it,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said Wednesday. “It’s telling when we receive feedback from knowledgeable attorneys in the community about what we should and should not be doing. We’re really fortunate to have such knowledgeable and concerned residents. We need their help.”

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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  1. Thank you Daniel for reporting this and a huge Thank You to James Grossberg for exposing what looks like yet again another Brown Act violation by City Management. You would think that during this probation period for their previous Brown Act violation they would have been on their best behavior. I am not happy that our City Attorney has one more time displayed either his ignorance on Brown Act conflicts or his willingness to do the bidding of the City Manager who surely can’t be happy with the results of the Police Survey. It is time for a new City Attorney and for holding the City Manager accountable for not being transparent about issues in Laguna. Again, Thank You James Grossberg for doing the City Attorney’s job for him and looking out for residents.

  2. Additionally, I think it would be wise to alert the District Attorney to this latest potential violation. The city is not complying with the terms of their probation period to give anyone confidence that they are now towing the line in regards to Brown Act violations.

  3. Seriously? When will our city leaders get it? How much Brown Act training do they need? We need to immediately release our contracted Legal Counsel City Attorney Phil Kohn who after 35 years IMO has been highly negligent. Like they say in government politics about most city attorneys… “they know where all the bodies are buried” which shamefully is their value. This isn’t a positive folks. Wake up Laguna residents. Demand the termination of Kohn’s contract now. We deserve better.

    And this statement is completely unacceptable! “Mayor Sue Kempf didn’t immediately respond to a call from a reporter seeking comment about Grossberg’s letter on Wednesday. City Manager Shohreh Dupuis declined to comment for this story.”

    Mayor Sue Kempf – your job is more than getting on camera during an emergency. Try responding to Laguna Beach constituents questions and concerns on our city matters. If you can’t, please step down.

    City Manager Shohreh Dupuis – you have no comment? Your last statement basically brushing off and discounting our public safety feedback was shocking. What kind of a city manager does this? One who gets to hide and be empowered by three votes? Residents are hearing public safety employee concerns loud and clear – survey or no survey. Why aren’t you? I predict that Shohreh Dupuis’s management inexperience and limited interpersonal skills will leave our city in serious trouble.

    We have a leadership and management problem Laguna. Let’s do something about it in 2022.

  4. Looks like two local political predators are tag teaming again. Michelle and MJ (aka Piss and Vinegar) took a break from spewing hate on Nextdoor to attack our Mayor, City Attorney, and City Manager in response to a poorly written article in this week’s Spindependent.

    “Exposing yet another Brown Act violation?” Hmmm… How did we violate the Brown Act if we never met and what makes you think Grossberg had anything to do with our decision not to meet? “Probation period for their previous Brown Act violation”? Which previous Brown Act violation are you talking about? The one that Toni and George have been lying about for the last few months to divert the public’s attention from the fact that they violated the Brown Act by revealing closed session information to an adversarial activist who has sued our City? Why don’t you contact the DA? I haven’t received a phone call, letter, or email, nor have I been charged for the last alleged “Brown Act violation” I wonder why!

    P&V go on to suggest that our “City Attorney is highly negligent” Phil Kohn has been navigating City Councils in Laguna and other cities for over 30 years. His record speaks for itself. Is he being judged by some local activists who know nothing about the Brown Act and have an axe to grind with City Management that they want to control and cant?

    “City Manager who surely can’t be happy with the results of the Police Survey?” Are you talking about the legitimate one that a professional polling company conducted (it found our police were happy serving in Laguna) or the one a disgruntled union leader developed on the eve of contract negotiations with the City? Funny how Sue, Bob, and I haven’t seen it but George and his wife received it and have been “analyzing it” I wouldn’t be surprised if they helped craft the survey to help spin their narrative that we have unhappy employees in our City Government.

    P&V then go on to shame the Mayor and City Manager for not responding to a request from this tabloid for comment on a matter pertaining to closed session. Seriously? The reason it’s referred to as closed session is due to the matters being discussed are sensitive and could involve litigation. Should the Mayor step down because she and City Management were in emergency meetings during a fire that threatened our community? She spoke to the media in order to advise the residents of the situation which at the time was fluid and had our community in imminent danger. Resign? You cant make this sh*t up lol!!

    P&V then go after our City Manager and make the outrageous statement that she’s hiding because she’s somehow empowered by 3 votes? Would that be three Councilpersons who won the vote of the people and chose to appoint Shohreh Dupuis based on five years of service to our community and decades of flawless work history with other communities much larger than ours. She’s the best City Manager we’ve ever had and yet somehow she’s being judged by Toni, an ex high school counselor, and George who’s been planting bushes in open space for the last few years. Sure!

    P&G reveal their true motive in the final paragraph. “Let’s do something about it in 2022” is a rallying cry to vote in a new Council that will toe their line. These political con-artists fancy themselves as king-makers and want to win the election in order to regain the stranglehold Village Laguna maintained over us for 50 years and finally lost in 2018.

    P&G, everyone knows what you’re up to! See you in November!


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