Letter: District attorney takes remedial action on Brown Act violation

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After sending a Sept. 21 letter threatening potential prosecution of the City Council for violating state open meeting laws, the DA has given the city until Nov. 4 to agree to remedial steps to restore trust in the reliability of Council compliance with the Brown Act. In a letter of Sept. 29 to DA, the City Attorney admitted the meeting on June 29 was not closed in accordance with Brown Act best practices, and that legally mandated notifications had not been made as falsely claimed in the City Attorney’s memo to the Council before the Aug. 10 censure of Councilmember George Weiss.

Knowing he had screwed up badly, the City Attorney even proposed some of the remedial actions the DA has now ordered. That includes special meeting record keeping protocols for a year so the DA can confirm meetings stick to topics that are exceptions to open meeting laws. The DA also wants councilmembers to be provided meaningful opportunity to challenge the propriety of closure, and admonished the Council that closed session discussion must be directly related to the specific topic for which the meeting was lawfully closed.

The DA action also is consistent with state aw providing that councilmembers who challenge the legality of closure are allowed to disclose the basis for doing so in public.  The City had asserted only the Council can waive confidentiality, but the DA’s letter acknowledges there are other exceptions to confidentiality “permitted by the Brown Act.”  That includes the exception to confidentiality for members challenging the legality of closure codified at CA Gov. Code Section 54963(e)(2).

If the June 29 meeting had been determined by the DA to have been lawfully closed, none of this would be occurring. And the DA’s silence on Weiss also speaks for itself, loudly confirming there was no finding of any violation by Weiss. Under these circumstances the Council owes it to the community, especially young people who are watching this debacle, to either conduct a re-hearing on the censure of Weiss, or simply rescind the resolution.

The city had remedial duties imposed on Council to avert further action by DA, Weiss did not. Under those outcomes, the censure cannot stand. If it is not repealed, the Council will undermine its own moral authority to enforce compliance with local or state law.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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