OPEN MEETINGS — A city council's firing of its city manager in a closed session labeled "evaluation of performance" rather than the more accurate statutory listing "discipline/dismissal/release" is being criticized as a violation of the Brown Act, but at least one council member says no deception was intended—the decision to fire the manager arose only once the evaluation discussion got going.

As Amanda Matthews reports in the Patterson Irrigator,

The Patterson City Council might have violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, a public meeting law, when it adjourned to closed session last week and emerged with a decision to terminate City Manager Cleve Morris.

The closed session Tuesday, April 20, was posted as “City Manager Evaluation.” In recent months, the council has met to evaluate Morris’ performance several times. On Tuesday, however, the council ended up voting to dismiss Morris.

According to Jim Ewert, legal council for California Newspaper Publishers Association, the agenda posting by the council did not properly reveal what it was going to do in session. 

“With regard to whether they gave proper notice on what action they were contemplating, I don’t think they did,” said Ewert. 

The action the council took was termination, not evaluation, he said.

According to Councilwoman Annette Smith, however, the meeting couldn’t have been announced any other way, because council members went into it not knowing that a vote would take place and decided to vote during the closed-session meeting. 

She added that the city manager, the city clerk and Mayor Becky Campo work together to create agendas.

< span class="Apple-style-span" style="border-collapse: separate; color: #000000; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; font-weight: normal; letter-spacing: normal; line-height: normal; orphans: 2; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: 2; word-spacing: 0px; font-size: medium; font-family: Arial;">Morris has since submitted a letter asking the council for a hearing and for a written list of reasons he was fired, according to Campo. Morris’ termination was set to officially happen May 24, giving him 30 days to respond to the vote. 

A special closed-session meeting was announced for 4 p.m. Wednesday — after press time for this week’s Patterson Irrigator. Campo has said the meeting is to discuss Morris’ request for a written statement and hearing.