OPEN MEETINGS -- In two unrelated actions, the Los Angeles County Board
of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council have been sued for
alleged violations of the local government open meeting law, the Ralph
M. Brown Act.


As reported by Garrett Therolf in the L.A. Now blog May 11,

A Long Beach resident has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that county
supervisors broke the law when they
spent millions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects
without a public
vote or discussion.

“Elected public servants, such as the Los
Angeles County Board of Supervisors, have a responsibility to conduct
the people’s business in public and to spend public funds wisely,” said
Glen Golightly, a screenwriter. “The spending of these funds is done
with little or no oversight and violates the Brown Act among other
California laws.”

Dist.
Atty. Steve Cooley briefly examined
the supervisors’ discretionary
accounts earlier this year before deciding not to file charges against
the supervisors alleging they violated the state open-meetings law.
Golightly’s
attorney, Paul Heidenreich, said his suit would be more
successful because his client was pursuing a civil—not criminal—action. 

Last year, Heidenreich won
a $172-million settlement for plaintiffs from the county
to end a
class-action lawsuit involving an illegal utility tax paid for years by
nearly 400,000 residents and businesses in unincorporated areas.

“Maybe the supervisors will just bring this practice to a stop
and start doing the people’s business in public. If not, we’ll be at
this for years,” Heidenreich said.

Meanwhile, Terelle Jerricks reports for Random Lengths News:

On April 28, the California First Amendment Coalition
filed a complaint against the City of Los Angeles after the City
Council refused to “cure and correct” an inadequately noticed February
18 agenda item that surreptitiously called for 4,000 City workers and
positions to be cut.


This complaint follows a letter sent by Random Lengths News (A Los
Angeles Harbor Area newsweekly) publisher James Preston Allen to City
Council president Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich
protesting what his paper believes to be a


violation of the Brown Act.
The Brown Act is the statute that regulates government meetings, public
access to legislative proceedings and taping and broadcast of these
meetings. (CA Gov. Code 54950-54959. “The people do not yield their
sovereignty to the bodies that serve them. The people insist on
remaining informed to retain control over the legislative bodies they
have created.”)


   


The City Council pushed through the job cuts while the Mayor's office,
credit agencies, and the Controller's office were laying a great deal of
rhetorical heat about making


tough decisions to close the budget gap.


   


Garcetti's office did not respond to Random Lengths letter, he and the
City were served on Thursday April 29.


A copy of the letter was sent to the First Amendment Coalition, whereby
after study of the issues involved filed the complaint in Superior
Court.


   


In the complaint, CFAC said it seeks a judicial determination of  the
adequacy of an agenda item description, which has appeared on the agenda
for 29 of the 37 Los Angeles City Council meetings held from February
9, 2010 to April 21, 2010, and was only acted upon four times out of
those 29 meetings, making it impossible for the ordinary citizen to know
what was being discussed and when.


   


CFAC also seeks a mandatory injunction directing the City Council to
place on its agendas in the future only item descriptions sufficient to
adequately inform members of the public about the subject matter and
potential actions to be considered pursuant to such description, so that
members of the public can determine whether to monitor or participate
in any particular meeting of the LACC.


   


The Brown Act requires that noticed agenda items be written in such a
way that they give reasonable notice of the action that a legislative
body will consider.


Although the notice needn't be detailed or lengthy, it nonetheless must
convey the essence of the action to be considered or taken.


   


In the Letter to Garcetti and Trutanich, the paper claimed,  “Item # 15
appeared to have been written with the intention of giving the public no
advance notice of the Council's intent.”


   


The paper continued, saying, “Indeed, it's hard to imagine a notice
provision better calculated to mislead the public. Nowhere is there any
mention of staff reductions or layoffs or job cuts. This is a model of
obfuscation, in plain defiance of the spirit and letter of both the
Brown Act and Prop 59.”


   


The Ralph M. Brown Act created specific agenda obligations for notifying
the public with a “brief description” of each item to be discussed or
acted upon, and also created a legal remedy for illegally taken actions–
namely, the judicial invalidation of those actions upon proper findings
of fact and conclusions of law by a court of law.


         


Trutanich, who has his own battles with the Mayor over the city budget
as it relates to his own department of City Attorney, did however
respond to Random Lengths’ complaint prior to the CFAC filing saying
that, “It is the opinion of this Office that the agenda description
adequately informed the public of the subject under consideration, such
that interested members of the public could determine whether to monitor
or participate in the City Council meeting.”


   


The letter continued, saying that the amending motion was germane to the
subject matter description, arguing that to be germane, an amendment
must in some way involve the same question that is raised by the motion
to which it is applied.


Trutanich office noted “that approximately 80 percent of the City’s
budget is comprised of the payment of employee wages and benefits. The
specter of layoffs not only was germane as a possible budget balancing
action related to the item in question, it had been discussed as a
possible solution to the City’s budget crisis for months.”