Leece: Council violated open meeting law

COSTA MESA — Councilwoman Wendy Leece said that she believes that the selection of Costa Mesa’s mayor and mayor pro tem was made during private conversations in advance of Tuesday’s council meeting.

The former mayor pro tem, who wanted to become mayor, on Thursday asked City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow to provide her with the information she needs to file a complaint under the Brown Act, a California law that requires most government policymaking decisions to be conducted in public.

A majority of the council members, for example, are not supposed to discuss or agree on decisions in advance of a council meeting.

“I believe there has been a violation of the Brown Act and have asked the city attorney to advise me and to look into the possibility that the decisions to appoint the mayor and mayor pro tem were made in discussions among three council members prior to the Dec. 7 meeting,” Leece wrote in an e-mail.

By law, meetings among any majority of political officials must be conducted before the public except when it comes to certain issues, such as personnel, real estate or litigation.

Leece alleged that Mayor Gary Monahan and Councilmen Eric Bever and Jim Righeimer spoke serially or directly before the meeting regarding Monahan’s selection as mayor and Righeimer’s selection as mayor pro tem, positions that rotate among members.

Leece, however, could not offer any evidence of such a violation — only speculation.

“There were no surprises when Mr. Monahan was nominated, no hesitations,” she wrote in her e-mail to Barlow. “Same with when Mr. Righeimer was nominated. Everything just seemed to go as planned.”

Monahan said Leece is welcome to file a complaint.

“I have nothing that I’m hiding and I’m honored to serve as mayor,” he said.

Since Tuesday’s meeting, e-mails and comments have been circulating about boycotting his restaurant, Skosh Monahan’s. Monahan said he’s not worried.

“For the most part, I would imagine that most, if not all, of those people don’t patronize Skosh Monahan’s anyway,” he said. “It’s not going to affect me. I have a very popular restaurant and I have a strong following in the city, and it’s a risk you take when you get into politics.”

Righeimer said he did not violate the Brown Act and his decision to nominate Monahan was not personal.

“I’m standing by my position in supporting Gary Monahan,” he said. “This is not a time for a ceremonial mayor. We need someone who’s experienced, and that’s why I support Gary Monahan.”

Barlow said she will look into Leece’s request and report back her findings.

Leece served as mayor pro tem for the last two years and she expected to be named mayor.

She worries that pre-arrangements would take place in the future on issues concerning the city and its business, she said.

“I suspect that this is going to be a pattern in the future with these council members and I want to put them on notice that this is wrong and illegal,” Leece wrote to Barlow. “This is not good for the city to allow violation of the Brown Act — or even the perception of a pre-arranged vote — and backroom discussions on agenda items.”