Claremont Insider: Government Secrets

Friday, July 13, 2007

Government Secrets

Will Bigham today had an article in the Bulletin about a Claremont City Council meeting in June that may have violated a California open meeting law, the Brown Act.

The Brown Act allows for local governmental agencies to meet in closed session only for very specific reasons, such as discussing ongoing real estate acquisitions or personnel matters.

Last month, the Claremont City Council went into closed session to hear an informational report on the Doubletree property on Foothill Blvd. There were no specific negotiations to discuss. A Brown Act expert was quoted in the article:

"The statute is very specific. It only applies to the terms and conditions of a specific transaction," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. "What they are talking about is conceptual planning and strategy.

"If they were discussing instead the specific price to acquire the property, so that it could then perhaps turn around and sell that property to another private party, then they could do that in closed session. But they can't have exploratory discussions about possible approaches or strategies."

The Claremont 400 has never had much respect for the Brown Act, and would generally prefer less or no interaction with the general public--it just gets too messy and inefficient. And, the public are amateurs at this local government game, unlike the 400. Besides, it's not as if Claremont is part of California or part of the United States. It's not as if things like the Brown Act apply to us.

The 400 is a nation unto itself. Those who were around in 2001 will recall Measure A, the anti-conflict of interest law sponsored by a group called the Oaks Project. Claremont voters passed Measure A by a margin of 55% to 45%.

Yet, the Claremont City Council and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, acting as the U.S. Supreme Court, said the measure was unconstitutional and refused to implement it. The measure, versions of which also passed in the cities of Pasadena, San Francisco and Santa Monica, was subsequently upheld in court, and all the hysteria raised by the Claremont 400 dissipated.

Incidentally, the 400 have had other run-ins with the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC). See the CFAC's press release on Claremont's 2000 Black Hole Award.

Councilmembers Sam Pedroza and Peter Yao were okay with the closed session and saw no violation in their views. City Attorney Carvahlo, of course, will come up with a legal rationale to backup whatever the council majority wants, even if she is wrong, as she was regarding Measure A. Carvahlo seems to see herself serving the council majority (the Claremont 400) rather than the people of Claremont.

The article also quoted former Claremont City Councilmember Jackie McHenry:

Former Councilwoman Jackie McHenry, said that during her time on the council, members often held closed sessions on topics she felt should have been discussed openly.

"If the people heard what went on in closed session they'd be amazed," McHenry said. "I wish we did not have closed session - closed session is supposed to be for the protection of the public."

McHenry said that during closed sessions, council members would often discuss off-topic things, such as their opinions of specific journalists, and would make off-the-cuff remarks about members of the public.

But, the 400 are okay with that, after all membership should have it's privileges, laws or no laws. The question is, is this just a philosophy or a pathology? Read up on Solipsism Syndrome for more insight into the 400.