By Anne Lowe

Californians Aware last week issued a stern warning to the Montebello City Council regarding alleged Brown Act violations in recent closed sessions, the Pasadena Star-News reports.

Richard McKee, vice president of open government compliance for advocacy group Californians Aware, demanded on Wednesday the Council correct violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which regulates government transparency.

The City Council improperly met behind closed doors about negotiations with "unrepresented employees" and reassigning police officers to patrol, violating the Brown Act, according to McKee.

McKee demanded a response from the city by Dec. 10 acknowledging a Brown Act violation occurred and committing not to repeat the transgression.

"Failure to respond as demanded will demonstrate that an actual and present controversy exists between us as to the public's rights and the City's responsibilities under the Brown Act," McKee wrote.

The full letter:

Dear City Council:

A review of recent City Council agendas has revealed several violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, Government Code §§ 54950-54963.

1.     On October 27, November 10, and November 22, 2010, the Council agenda listed a Closed Session item:

THREAT TO PUBLIC SERVICES OR FACILITIES

  (Pursuant to Government Code Section 54957)

  Discussion with Acting Chief of Police

However, it is reported City officials have revealed that the actual discussions in these closed sessions have concerned reassignment of police personnel, the elimination of the crime suppression unit, and the reduction of expenditures such decisions could produce.  Yet, § 54957 does not authorize the closed session discussion of any of these items of business.  Thus, these closed sessions violate §§ 54953, 54954.2/54956, 54957, 54957.7, and 54962.

2.     On October 27 and November 10, 2010, the Council Agenda listed a Closed Session item:

CONFERENCE WITH LABOR NEGOTIATORS

  (Pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.6)

  Agency representatives: Peter Cosentini/Richard Kreisler/Jeffrey C. Freedman

  Employee Organization/

  Negotiating Party: Unrepresented Employees

However, the generic term “Unrepresented employees” is not in substantial compliance with 54954.5(f), which requires the agenda description to state the “position title of the unrepresented employee who is the subject of the negotiations.”  Thus, these closed session descriptions violate §§ 54954.2, 54954.5, and 54957.

Correction Demanded: To remedy these violations, the City shall, no later than December 10, 2010, reply to this Demand in writing, acknowledging these violations, with a commitment that such future closed sessions will include only items of business expressly authorized by the Brown Act and the agenda descriptions of those closed sessions will provide the required information in substantial compliance with § 54954.5.

Failure to respond as demanded will demonstrate that an actual and present controversy exists between us as to the public’s rights and the City’s responsibilities under the Brown Act.  This is submitted by me both as an individual member of the public and on behalf of Californians Aware, as its authorized representative.