City attorney: ‘Working groups’ didn’t violate Brown Act


COSTA MESA — Working groups formed by the City Council in January did not violate the state open-meetings law, City Atty. Thomas P. Duarte wrote in a letter responding to an advocacy group’s public assertion that Costa Mesa had breached the Brown Act.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the government transparency group Californians Aware rejected Duarte’s response as unsatisfactory, saying it would pursue the matter in court.

Terry Francke, general counsel for the Carmichael, Calif.-based Californians Aware, told the Daily Pilot he would recommend that the group seeks a California Superior Court order that any future meetings of Costa Mesa’s “working groups” be held in compliance with the act.

“A committee that is given a title and a general area of responsibility such as these … without a windup date or assignment of an immediate task have to be regarded as a standing committees,” Francke said.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Wendy Leece has put in a public records request to City Hall for documents, minutes and notes from each of the meetings of the Budget and Capital Improvements working group, according to an e-mail from Leece to the Daily Pilot on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether Leece’s request had to do with the concerns raised by Californians Aware or Duarte’s response.

In a Monday letter to Francke, Duarte wrote that the five working groups complied with the act.

“These groups are purely advisory and ad hoc in nature,” Duarte wrote in the letter.

“They are only composed of two council members, (and) thereby, constitute a less-than-quorum body,” his letter continues. “They are of limited duration and each (is) assigned a specific task by the council. Furthermore, they do not have indefinite subject matter jurisdiction over city-wide issues nor do they meet upon any schedule fixed by charter, ordinance or formal action of any legislative body.

“As such no violations of the Brown Act have occurred.”

Three out of five of the working groups singled out by Californians Aware — Economic Development; Sports and Recreation; and Policies, Procedures and General Plan — have met once but have no future meetings planned. A fourth working group, Motel Issues, has never met and has no meetings scheduled, according to a city press release issued May 11.

Budget and Capital Improvements met 12 times regarding outsourcing issues. The committee’s work will be complete after delivering a report to the City Council and the public on May 17, according to the release.

—Staff Writer Joseph Serna also contributed to this report