Letter: District Attorney Says City Council Majority Closed-Session Violated Brown Act

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I received an email from the Laguna Beach Independent Newspaper with the headline “Closed-Session Leaks Violated Brown Act District Attorney says”. This headline is at best misleading and at worse, false. The letter the District Attorney’s office sent Councilmember George Weiss actually says, “there is substantial evidence that the City Council Members violated the Brown Act with respect to the public notice of the closed session and/or the scope of the matters considered during the meeting.” That is the City Council majority closed session was illegal violating the Brown Act.

The letter goes on to say that Councilman George Weiss “potentially violated the Brown Act by also subsequently disclosing to members of the public confidential information obtained during the same closed session.” That is, it leaves open the possibility that he did not violate the Act.

The work “leak” in this context is pejorative while Councilman Weiss was bravely acting as a whistleblower disclosing to the public the illegal actions of the city council majority. That information was rightfully the public’s to know as changes to Hotel Laguna permits should have occurred in an open meeting. Only four topics are allowed to be discussed in closed sessions: real estate transactions, labor negotiations, personnel issues, and litigation. Litigation was not discussed but an update on the progress being made at the Hotel Laguna, and a vote was held on removing the stop work orders.

How about the Indy finding out answers to what went on? Afterall, the District Attorney office’s letter includes “For its part, the City Council waived confidentiality with respect to the June 29, 2021, closed session and openly discussed the proceedings during its August 24. 2021, meeting.” One important question to ask the City, for example, was Hotel Laguna litigation discussed at the closed session? The closed session’s agenda noticed discussion of litigation regarding Hotel Laguna, but the City Council majority voted to concur with staffers’ decision to partially withdraw a stop-work order at the historic hotel.

It also might be newsworthy to find out what the city council majority plans to do about getting poor legal advice from our city attorney, Phil Kohn, who has been Laguna Beach City Attorney for something like 39 years. At the Aug. 24, 2021, city council meeting, Mr. Kohn maintained his advice was sound on the closed session and there was no need to “cure” the action by redoing the vote at an open public meeting. However, he noted that his firm Rutan & Tucker gave contrary advice.

Johanna Felder, Laguna Beach

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