Letter: Mending An Open Wound

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Councilmember Peter Blake, Mayor Sue Kempf, and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen voted to censure Councilmember George Weiss. It would now be appropriate to rescind their action.  Any one of the three who voted for censure could do so. This would help repair their image and the harm it has done to our city.

The circumstances leading to this retaliation began when Weiss revealed that the Council was doing the public’s business in secret closed sessions. The Orange County District Attorney then found “substantial evidence that the City Council Members violated the Brown Act” (California State Law) and placed them on probation for six months. The District Attorney also told Weiss “we encourage you to review the provisions of the Brown Act, especially those pertaining to closed sessions.”

This censure is unnecessary and harmful to all concerned. But in this case where it was done to the whistleblower that got a suggested reading assignment from the District Attorney and not those placed on probation is especially ironic. That is a twisted result with the guilty punishing the whistleblower who exposed their wrongdoing. It is past time to make amends.

Neil Fitzpatrick, a three-term member of the Laguna Beach City Council and three-term mayor. 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I was serving in the U.S. Peace Corps, Navy JAG and U.S. diplomatic posts when Mr. Fitzpatrick served our city. While I want to thank him for his service, for the record I want to state that I have had no political affiliation with him then or since, do not know or care what his party affiliation may be, did not vote for him, and have never had a political discussion with him.

    That said, I am in total agreement with him that the Weiss censure must be rescinded. The test of reason is very simple. The community would not have accepted the Council’s action if the public and Council knew at the time of the censure what it knew after the District Attorney’s office sent the letter citing grounds to prosecute the city not Weiss.

    The Council would not have adopted the censure when it did if City Attorney had informed the Council and public as he later was forced to inform the DA’s office that best practices were not followed with respect to Brown Act compliance at the unlawfully closed meeting.

    A meeting not closed in compliance with the Brown Act does not create the same duty of confidentiality that a properly closed meeting invokes. To be confidential under the Brown Act the discussion must relate directly to the topic for which the meeting was closed.

    The City Attorney wrote a letter to the DA asking for leniency he has harshly denied to others for years, and that he denied to Weiss at the time of the censure. In that letter the City Attorney grudgingly admitted that his agenda report to the Council was false, misinforming the members that threat of litigation was on the closed meeting agenda, and that the topic of lifting building code enforcement actions was therefore in order for the closed meeting.

    It is good that Mayor Bob Whalen later candidly stated that as a lawyer he should have looked more closely at Brown Act compliance in the Weiss censure matter. That honesty has redemptive power only if he follows through and joins with two or more other members in rescinding the censure of Weiss.

    This is not about the 2022 City Council election. This is about our character and decency as a community. Current Mayor Sue Kempf castigated Weiss for reaching the same conclusion about the improperly closed meeting that the DA’s office reached bases on the facts. That qualifies Weiss for a legal defense and arguably an exception to the closed meeting confidentiality rule. Kempf owes Weiss a formal apology for stating he had violated state law, a determination only a court of law can make, and that the DA’s declined to attribute to Weiss.

    I am not a stakeholder in this matter. But I grew up in a Laguna Beach where city officials did not typically take themselves so seriously that they could not admit when they made a mistake. The City Attorney’s inability to openly admit on the record that he screwed up manifested a desperate expectation that the Council would not hold him accountable.

    By going along with the City Attorney’s fixation on not just advising but aggressively advocating the Weiss censure, the Council lowered itself to the City Attorney’s unjust obsession with “winning at all costs.” Instead, the City Attorney should be leading the effort to rescind the Weiss censure. Mr. Kohn should treat Weiss the way he pleaded with the DA to him as City Attorney, especially since Weiss deserves that fairness more than the City Attorney deserved leniency.

  2. Mr. Fitzpatrick, I agree. Numerous pleas and citizen requests in writing and publicly have been made to council members Kempf and Whalen and they go completely ignored. I mean completely ignored – no response at all. I never contact Council member Peter Blake because he does respond but typically its by insults and harassment. No thanks! I’m beginning to think logical and considerate public officials like no longer exist. Maybe you can come back and help get our CC back on track and help us find new legal council?

  3. There are two official letters from the DA in the public record, both from Senior Deputy District Attorney Steven Schriver. In the first letter, he stated: “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.”

    Lawyers are very careful with language, and “substantial evidence” is what they write when they haven’t proven something. In that same letter, Schriver went on to state that there was “significant evidence of a potential violation of the Brown Act” by George. That too wasn’t proven until George confirmed it at the Council meeting that resulted in his censure, when admitted he had talked about the closed session with the famously litigious Mark Fudge and former mayor Paul Freeman, who came to distrust Mo by working for him.

    The City then wrote the DA to point out that Shriver had expressed his opinion after communicating only with George, and no one else. That should strike any fair-minded person as an incomplete investigation at best. They asked for a meeting to further discuss the closed session. They met on October 12, 2021. That yielded a second letter on October 14, 2021 from Deputy DA Shriver. It’s part of the staff report here: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1507

    This letter too is carefully worded. And nowhere does the DA say that the closed session was illegal, or that anyone calling for and attending the meeting violated the Brown Act. No one violated the Brown Act except George, by his own admission.

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