The Thousand Oaks City Council did not violate the state's open-meeting law when it rescinded a voluntary $25,000 spending limit during a July debate about campaign finance reform, the Ventura County district attorney has determined.
Although the cap was voluntary and never formally made law, Councilwomen Linda Parks and Elois Zeanah had asked Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury to investigate the item's repeal because it was not specifically listed as an item for discussion on the council agenda.
When the item was repealed, the council agenda listed "campaign finance reform" as the topic of discussion, without mentioning the cap. The campaign finance ordinance, drafted by a citizens committee, was eventually approved on a 5-0 vote, despite concerns about the spending cap.
Bradbury wrote in a letter to Parks that the open-meeting law, known as the Brown Act, requires only "a brief general description" of the items that lawmakers will consider at a meeting.
"No legal mandate exists requiring that an agenda inform the public of the council's intention to vote on the repeal of a previous agreement that may also relate to the agenda topic," Bradbury wrote in the two-page letter dated Aug. 11. "The vote to rescind the voluntary spending cap appears to be within the broad and general subject matter of 'campaign finance reform.' "
Parks said Tuesday that the letter disappointed her and that she would like to see the voluntary spending cap issue revisited.
"It's not so much Bradbury's letter," she said. "It's the fact that the public had no notice that we were going to rescind our decision to support voluntary campaign spending limits. . . . No one had the opportunity to discuss the repeal of that."
At the time of the July discussion of campaign finance matters, an elections lawyer told the council that a voluntary spending cap was, in all likelihood, unconstitutional.
Mayor Mike Markey said Tuesday that he felt vindicated by the district attorney's letter.
"This is something like the third time Mrs. Parks has accused us of violating the Brown Act," Markey said, referring to his council colleagues Andy Fox and Judy Lazar. "I think she owes Mr. Fox, Mrs. Lazar and myself an apology. . . . This is another one of her attempts to demean and discredit her colleagues."