Costa Mesa's city attorney has rejected a resident's claim that city
officials violated the Brown Act by participating in private meetings
concerning the city's Job Center.
Martin Millard, a Costa Mesa resident who has said the city
shouldn't be running the Job Center, sent the complaint to City
Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow on July 12. It alleged that members of
the City Council and city staff have worked with an independent
committee but withheld information about their involvement and the
The city-run Job Center provides a place for day laborers to
connect with employers. It has been a flashpoint in debates over
illegal immigration, and the City Council has voted to close the
center at the end of this year.
Once the center's closing was announced, a group of private
individuals began meeting with the goal of creating a new job center
not affiliated with the city. Led by Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce
President Ed Fawcett, those meetings have not been public.
The Brown Act requires the City Council to conduct public business
in the open at public meetings.
Millard's complaint suggested that council members or city staff
were receiving reports on the committee's work. But when Millard
requested any written records of city participation in the committee,
his complaint stated, he was told no such records existed.
The California Public Records Act requires government agencies,
when asked, to disclose written records that deal with public
"The city is involved in it, and with the city involved, the
public should know what's going on," Millard said.
Costa Mesa Assistant City Manager Steve Hayman said he has
attended some of the private meetings as "an invited guest," but he
hasn't taken notes.
"It's correct that there isn't anything written. I don't bring
anything back from those meetings, but what I'm not aware of is his
[Millard's] supposed request for anything I might have," Hayman said.
Barlow sent a response to Millard's complaint July 27 concluding
that no Brown Act violation has occurred.
"The Brown Act is not implicated when the city neither creates the
committee, pays for its operation, or appoints its members, and the
committee meetings do not include a majority of the council members,"
She also denied that any "secret briefings" of the council or
staff members have occurred.
Fawcett has kept the committee meetings under wraps even from the
media because of the controversy surrounding the Job Center. If any
committee members talk to a council member on their own, it's their
choice to do so, he said, but no council members have had input on
Because the private group wasn't established by the council, it
has discretion over whom it invites, as long as a quorum of council
members isn't there, said Terry Francke, general counsel for
Californians Aware, a nonprofit group that supports open government.
"It is not the city's 'involvement' which triggers the Brown Act,"
he said. "To have that statute come into play, you've got to have
something that the law calls a legislative body meeting, and
ordinarily that means a government body."
That means a council member or city staff member could go to the
private group's meetings without violating the Brown Act.
"If it's true that nothing was ever written down or nothing was
ever acquired in writing by visiting this meeting, then you don't
have any public records issue," Francke said.