Opinion: Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant 

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By Jim Grossberg

In his Sept. 15 Guest Opinion, Michael Ray plays the same disingenuous game as other Shohreh Dupuis acolytes (a remarkable percentage of whom, like Ray, develop real estate) who have rushed to blame Councilman George Weiss for her departure and its cost. Without a single supporting fact, Ray claims that he “felt” like Weiss “harassed” Dupuis and “shouted over and down others.”

Ray’s accusation parrots Dupuis’ now-abandoned administrative claims of “harassment” and “hostile work environment” against Weiss while failing to acknowledge that shouting “over and down others,” even if Weiss had done that, cannot provide a legal basis for Dupuis’ claims. To be punishable, workplace “harassment” must be motivated by the claimant’s membership in a protected class, such as a racial or religious minority. Mere sharp, repeated criticism isn’t workplace harassment. No evidence of discriminatory actions or intent aimed at Dupuis has been presented against Weiss.

Dupuis made the same fact-free accusations earlier this year against four residents who, as a legal matter, could not have created a so-called “hostile workplace” because they held no position in City government.

So exactly who “shouted over and down” whom here?

As a freedom of information (FOI) lawyer, I see Dupuis in a very different light than Ray does—as an autocrat who abused the levers of power to hide from the public and even council members whatever might make her look bad. During her term, Dupuis launched an assault on government transparency, the breadth of which I have never witnessed by a city manager during three decades as a FOI lawyer. Some examples:

Dupuis mandated that all public statements by city employees, even time-sensitive emergency alerts, first be approved by her PR assistant, leading to significant delays and misstatements in alerts that have compromised public safety.

Flaunting city law, Dupuis sharply curtailed councilmembers’ ability to obtain information from city staff.

The Orange County DA ordered the city to take ameliorative action after Weiss caught it violating the state’s open meetings law. More recently, the city hurriedly canceled a scheduled council meeting after Weiss again caught the city attempting to violate the same law. That violation appeared to be part of a clumsy effort to intimidate Weiss from exercising his First Amendment right to discuss a public police employee survey highly critical of Dupuis’ administration.

Dupuis misled the public regarding developer Mo Honarkar’s violent, illegal attempted takeover of two hotels on May 2, falsely characterizing the melees as a mere “business dispute” and asserting that the city was unable to determine who had lawful possession of the properties, although she possessed documentation that it was not Honarkar and thus he was trespassing, as a court then ruled.

Dupuis and subordinates flagrantly violated California’s Public Records Act by, among other conduct, refusing to release—without any legal justification—certain public records regarding Dupuis’ November 2022 traffic incident and apparent attempted intimidation of a police officer. The city also inexplicably halted the previously agreed-upon release of monthly totals of City legal fees (now totaling at least $50,000) incurred in withholding public records regarding the traffic incident.

Dupuis’ administration illegally used taxpayer funds to produce and disseminate a deceptive, doctored video of the traffic incident.

Dupuis attempted to deflect public scrutiny of her conduct by launching the unsubstantiated “harassment” attack on four residents, potentially slandering them and exposing the city to liability under federal law.

Dupuis withheld from council critical facts regarding the attempted sale of the library.

Weiss typically was the only councilmember trying to stop this war on public transparency.

Whatever Dupuis’ alleged accomplishments, such as “opening” the Hotel Laguna (no, Mr. Ray, she didn’t open it, only the restaurant opened and not by her; the hotel’s guest rooms remain closed), Dupuis’ assault on open government—a vital foundation of an informed democracy—is inexcusable. We can only now wonder what additional missteps or worse, Dupuis covered up.

Nevertheless, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said over a century ago: “Sunlight is . . . the best of disinfectants.” With a fresh city attorney and interim city manager in place, let’s get on with the disinfecting.

Jim is a retired First Amendment and freedom of information attorney. He served as president of the nation’s largest organization of news media lawyers and as lead newsroom counsel for the Orange County Register for more than two decades. He has represented numerous news entities in freedom of information litigation, including landmark cases before the US Supreme Court.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. All of Coucilman Weiss’s colleagues chose to spend a lot of taxpayer money rather than defend him in court. One has to wonder what they know that we don’t. As far as sunshine goes, he could set a good example by releasing the video of his traffic stop, and his entire correspondence with the DA’s office. I would also welcome a discussion of all the times he has violated the Brown Act.

  2. Thank you Mr Grossberg for your thorough and educational run-down of the types of games the former City manager was playing throughout her tenure; games that damaged overall trust in city government and which tried to advance the “vibrancy” agenda of her backers. Although your factual and legal analysis of Ms Dupuis’ verbal allegations against Councilperson Weiss are shown to be meritless and undocumented, I’m sure those who loved the former’s CM devotion to their pet projects and overall pro-development, pro-vibrancy leanings will continue to mislead with these same threadbare claims.

  3. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, then you and George Weiss’s acolytes should be clamoring for a release of the closed door sessions regarding Ms. Dupuis’s claims of harassment by Weiss. But we only hear crickets. What is Mr. Transparency hiding? And no, I’m not a real estate developer. But what’s the problem? This town was built by developers. Not lawyers.

  4. Funny you should mention that Billy. I am currently preparing a letter to the City requesting exactly that and all other records possessed by the City regarding this matter, pursuant to the California Public Records Act. Glad we’re on the same page there.

  5. It’s also kind of funny Billy that you take the opportunity in your post to take a shot at lawyers. You know it’s lawyers who have been largely responsible for writing, enacting and enforcing the same California Public Records Act that apparently both of us would like to utilize to obtain relevant information about this matter.

  6. To be clear, Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo were built by developers. Laguna’s artists, craftsmen, innovators, shop owners and individual residents built Laguna.

  7. Quilter you’re up to your usual wrong assumptions. First – how could Weiss be defended in court if he was NEVER told what the complaint was despite REPEATED requests by him? You have that backwards – they chose to convict him with NO FACTS presented to either him or his attorneys. So what are you talking about?? He has also repeatedly said that anyone can see the video. Maybe if you were paying attention to council meetings you would know that. If you care that much go check it out yourself. You want to know what he sent to the DA? Ask him yourself to see it. Maybe then you would understand why the City Manager was so disastrous for Laguna. Instead of a discussion about all his supposed Brown Act violations, how about you tell us what they are since you seem to know. I’d love to hear them.

    Fried – again, like Quilter, you have your facts wrong (oh wait – do you ever have any?). You must be kidding right? Do you not think that we are clamoring for the details? Did you hear me speak at City Council on Tuesday? I asked for that very thing. How on earth can you think that we don’t want to hear what went on in their kangaroo court to judge and convict Weiss with NO EVIDENCE – and not informing the “guilty” party of what he was guilty of? I’m astounded by your ignorance about this – the 4 councilmembers did this without Weiss’ knowledge or participation. So ask THEM about being transparent – something we have been “clamoring for” for a very long time.

  8. Thank you Mr. Grossberg for your letter as a Freedom of Information attorney and having quite the background in media and many other matters including the complete lack of transparency by the CM installed by Whalen, Kempf and Blake. How anyone can look at the last 2 years and not see what was going on, much less a professional like yourself. This really shows the power of alliances and how this city suffered from such a waste of finances, leadership and transparency. The city is in the process of having to clean it up, Hopefully you are correct, with new governance, may we continue to disinfect!

  9. B Fried, you state: “If sunlight is the best disinfectant, then you and George Weiss’s acolytes should be clamoring for a release of the closed door sessions regarding Ms. Dupuis’s claims of harassment by Weiss.”

    AMEN! You finally have something to say worthy of repeating and supporting.

    FYI – I understand the CPRA has been filed. Let’s see now just how “transparent” the City Council members directly involved in this are. There should be no reason to not release the information requested. City Councilman George Weiss is entitled to it and the public needs to know it was handled appropriately and responsibly by our elected’s and legal counsel. Thanks!

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