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.