By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT – Documents related to Huntington Beach City Council study sessions have a history of being buried in late communications packets, an investigative report said today.

Late communications packets include information submitted to the city clerk after the official agenda packets are already distributed and posted online, the Voice of OC reports. This information – which can include budget-related documents, city manager reports and other pertinent information for city council agenda items – is held at the city clerk’s office without any public notice.

In the last budget study session, a large document bundle — containing city organization charts, potential staff cuts and interdepartmental memos — was submitted in a late communications packet.

According to Flynn, the city's lax policy on making study session documents available goes back to the previous city administrator's policy on PowerPoint presentations. Because the presentations back then were deemed mere "talking point" documents, (City Clerk Joan) Flynn said, the city administrator made it OK to leave them out of the normal agenda packet.

"It's just the way we've allowed the organization — in the way we present materials — to evolve," Flynn said.

Nonethess, in the past Huntington Beach officials have buried important information in late communications packets

For example, a report from the city attorney regarding the law surrounding a controversial mobile home park subdivision was found in a late communications packet. Only a few were available at the meeting, and the city clerk made a quick, vague announcement about it without any indication of the nature of the communication.

At the time, Voice of OC's open government consultant Terry Francke said that kind of approach revealed a gap in the Brown Act.

"It doesn't do the audience much good if it's given some kind of vague label and they're not reminded they can get a copy," Francke said.

And Flynn acknowledges that residents were up in arms three years ago when city staff buried key information on a right-of-way issue in a late communications packet.

But both Flynn and (City Administrator Fred) Wilson contend that they are doing everything that the law requires.

"When is enough enough? How much work do we have to do?" Wilson asked.