OPEN MEETINGS -- The Mission Viejo Dispatch reports a textbook example of the post facto casuistry used by too many local government leaders, enabled by their compliant lawyers, to duck clear requirements of the Brown Act.

City Councils are given discretion to deal with limited subjects in closed sessions, such as real property negotiations, employee evaluations, and litigation strategy.  The law also creates a very narrow discretion for secrecy on any other matter while assigned to an ad hoc committee COMPRISED EXCLUSIVELY of a sub-majority (two members) of the Council.  The MV Council admits a Brown Act violation would occur if additional persons, including residents, were members of a secretly operating ad hoc committee.
    Ad Hocs are highly controversial because of the potential abuse.  Many observers feel the Mission Viejo City Council routinely abuses the Ad Hoc process by referring issues into these secret committees which otherwise would have to be discussed publicly.  Although Ad Hoc Committees cannot take final decisions or actions, extensive plans and agreements are completely formulated for quick and summary approval by the Council.
    The Rose Float Committee became a legal issue when four residents were added secretly to the committee.  The Council admits the addition of four residents as members would require the Committee to operate openly under the Brown Act, including 72-hour notice of meetings, posted agendas, public meetings, and minutes of the meetings.  It also admits at least four residents participated on the Committee and concedes open Brown Act protocols were not followe.

In an e-mail response to a Dispatch query about the committee's composition, Mayor Trish Kelley (who created the committee) stated, "In addition to me, the Ad Hoc Committee is Lance (MacLean, a Council member), Bob Breton, Ziggy Wilczynski, John Ben, Helen Workun. . . The members were chosen due to their past experience on Mission Viejo float involvement, or approached us with an interest in helping on the committee." Breton is a former mayor who admitted being on the committee in a statement at a council meeting. The Dispatch demanded a correction to the apparent Brown Act violation, and the mayor issued a carefully scripted non sequitur denial (it makes no difference why non-council members are included on an ad hoc committee; the fact that they are subjects the committee to the Brown Act's notice and open meeting requirements).

But instead of going to court, the Dispatch turned to the political jury for a verdict.

The Dispatch won’t sue the Mayor and City Council in court on Brown Act allegations of illegal secrecy, lies and coverup.  Instead, readers are invited to act as a jury of peers by using the Open Meetings Poll below . . .
    The issues before readers are:
    ° Were the four residents members of the Committee?
    ° Did Mayor Kelley and Councilman MacLean lie when they claimed, after the Brown Act charge, that residents were experts or consultants instead of members?
   ° Was the use of the terms “experts” or ”consultants” a coverup to avoid the Open Meetings Law and prevent transparency?

As of December 10, the Dispatch reported, 74 percent of the responses "believed Trish Kelley and Lance MacLean violated the Brown Act."