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Oxnard Rejects Tighter Lid on Confidential Memos

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Oxnard City Council unanimously rejected a proposed policy Tuesday that would have required the consent of all five council members before any confidential document from the city attorney’s office could be released to the public.

The proposal, made by City Atty. Gary Gillig, had previously been supported by council members Manuel Lopez and Dorothy Maron and Mayor Nao Takasugi.

But on Tuesday the council members voted it down, saying they believe the policy is not necessary.

“All five members of the council are grown adults. . . . If we just use common sense, that should guide our actions,” Takasugi said.

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Lopez said he changed his mind about the policy after further studying the proposal and reviewing similar ordinances adopted by other cities.

Tuesday’s vote was, in part, a reaction to complaints by several Oxnard activists who have charged in recent months that too many of the council’s decisions are made in private.

The matter was raised at a council meeting in September when then-Councilwoman Ann Johs criticized Gillig, saying he generated too many confidential documents. She requested that the council adopt a formal policy to make it easier for the council to release documents from Gillig’s office.

The council discussed the issue in September but decided to take final action on the matter after the Nov. 6 election.

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Councilman Michael Plisky, who was elected to replace Johs, said he opposed the policy because it would make it too difficult for the city to release information to the public.

Gillig defended the proposal, saying it would establish ground rules in a gray area of public policy.

“I just want the council to tell me how many votes it takes to let me release a confidential report,” Gillig said, adding that he is legally prohibited from releasing confidential documents without the council’s consent.

Gillig said all five members of the council are his clients. Any confidential documents generated for their benefit is protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege, he said. For that reason, he recommended that a unanimous consent of the council be required before any document is released.

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Although Oxnard has never had a formal policy on the matter, Gillig said he used an informal policy that requires the consent of at least four council members before a confidential document is released.

The policy rejected Tuesday would, in effect, make it more difficult for the council to release confidential documents generated by the city attorney’s office.

In a previous report, Gillig said his office has generated 148 confidential reports to the council in the last two years, of which 134 related directly to claims against the city, court cases, potential litigation and personnel issues.

The remaining 14 confidential reports and memos concerned items of interest to the council and contained legal opinions or recommendations, he said.

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During the same discussion, the council unanimously rejected a proposal that would require each council member to sign an oath, promising not to violate the confidentiality of what is discussed in closed-door council meetings.

Gillig said he does not recommend the proposal but only offered it for the council’s consideration.

Lopez said the policy is not needed. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with the way we operate now,” he said.

Takasugi also said it would be difficult to prove who had violated such an oath.

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Gillig said the cities of Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Pasadena have adopted policies that make it a misdemeanor for any city official to reveal what is discussed in a closed-door council meeting.


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