Council to respond to open-meetings law complaint

The Newport Beach City Council will respond Tuesday night to one of two letters alleging violations of California's open-meetings law.

In an email Sept. 17, Newport Beach resident Jim Mosher sent two "cease and desist" letters accusing the city of violating the state law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, in several instances related to the city's Sept. 10 decision to pursue a contract with a private company to outsource trash collection.

City staff said they believed Mosher's allegations to be "largely without merit," according to the staff report, but they recommended that the council address one accusation in one of the letters to prevent litigation.

That accusation dealt with how the council handled its closed session when it talked with the city manager and city’s human resources director about what would happen with the employees who pick up trash if their jobs were outsourced. 

Mosher noted that the council adjourned to this closed session without explicitly announcing the items to be discussed.

Staff recommended that the council approve "an unconditional commitment letter" to be signed by Mayor Keith Curry in response. The letter would not admit fault, but protects the city from litigation, according to the report.

"It's a real ticky-tack technical violation," City Attorney Aaron Harp said of the allegation.

In the future, the report says, "the city may choose to make its pre-closed session announcement by referring to the numbered item on the agenda which describes the closed session matter(s)."

Mosher's second letter pertains to a commentary published in the Daily Pilot that outlines the benefits of outsourcing the trash collection service. It was not mentioned in the staff report.

Curry and Councilman Mike Henn co-authored the commentary. Both are members of the three-person Finance Committee, making them a majority of that committee, Mosher noted.

As such, if they discussed the issue without notifying the public of their meeting, he believes it would be a violation of the Brown Act.

City staff said they understood the pair acted as city councilmen, not as Finance Committee members, Harp said.

The issue will be left to them for resolution.

[For the record, 2:44 p.m., Oct. 8: An earlier version incorrectly reported that the council talked with representatives from the Newport Beach Employees League. In fact, it talked with the city manager and city’s human resources director.]

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