Suit Charges Council Violated Secrecy Law
The Tribune newspaper filed a lawsuit Monday against the San Diego City Council claiming that city elected officials violated the Brown Act by holding a series of private sessions last week on the $644-million 1987 budget.
The suit alleges council members deliberately tried for two days to circumvent the state law, which requires legislative bodies such as the council to discuss the public’s business in open meetings.
The newspaper’s suit, which names all eight council members as defendants, says that the elected officials engaged in “subterfuge” during the private sessions by making sure no more than four of them were present; five council members constitute a quorum.
It also alleges that a public meeting on Thursday to approve the budget was a “sham” because the council “had already determined in secret how they intended to spend the public’s money for fiscal year 1987.”
The public meeting was delayed for about 90 minutes while council members were huddling in private in their offices.
Meanwhile, City Atty. John Witt, who would be charged with defending the council members in a civil suit, said Monday he expects to receive explanations from council members about the meetings by today.
Witt, who says he may refer the matter to the county district attorney’s office for possible criminal violation, sent a letter Friday to each council member asking what happened during the private sessions.
Two council aides Friday said that four council members--acting Mayor Ed Struiksma, Gloria McColl, Uvaldo Martinez and William Jones--met for an hour and a half Thursday afternoon to go over proposed budget items. One aide said Struiksma had already met privately with council members Bill Cleator and Judy McCarty regarding the budget.
The Tribune paraphrased McColl as saying the four officials had reached a consensus on the budget items in the private session and that only four were included in a continuing series of private meetings at any one time to avoid violation of the Brown Act.
McColl, however, has sent a short response to Witt’s request that disputes the Tribune’s account.
Dated June 20, the two-paragraph memo ends: “To my knowledge there was no consensus reached by the members of the City Council outside of the public hearing regarding the fiscal year 1987 budget for the City of San Diego.”
A civil complaint like the one filed by the newspaper Monday would not void the council decisions in question, Witt said. It could result in a ruling that would “amount to no more than a slap on the wrist and ‘naughty-naughty’ and ‘don’t do it again’ sort of thing,” he said.
A criminal violation of the Brown Act is a misdemeanor. However, a conspiracy to violate the Brown Act is a felony, Witt said.