Manoukian demands end to closed door Starbird meetings

CITY HALL — City Councilman Rafi Manoukian has demanded that closed door proceedings related to City Manager Jim Starbird be made public — claiming the council violated open meeting laws.

Manoukian this week confirmed that on Sunday he sent an email to his fellow council members and the city attorney’s office, alleging that the City Council had violated open meeting laws during a recent closed session deliberation.

Under the Brown Act, legislative bodies are required to meet a slew of regulations and posting requirements intended to ensure that all deliberations and actions are reported to the public.

While there are some exceptions — such as union negotiations and personnel issues — that are allowed to be discussed behind closed doors, they are required to be properly described and documented on meeting agendas.

Manoukian said he could not provide further details about the letter, except that it was in relation to a recent City Council closed session item labeled “Performance Evaluation-City Manager,” which appeared on the June 28 and July 5 City Council agendas.

On Wednesday, Starbird told senior executives and the City Council that he plans to retire at year’s end, suggesting more than just an employment evaluation may have been discussed in the closed door meeting, prompting the demand letter from Manoukian.

City Atty. Scott Howard on Friday said he could not comment on the matter.

Manoukian’s email came days before Starbird’s retirement announcement, a decision one official said the council had been notified may be coming during the closed session in question.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said closed session discussions must stay within the bounds listed on meeting agendas.

“It has to be a performance review,” he said of the item in question in Glendale. “There is that potential for abuse that you have to watch out for.”

While unusual, Scheer said it is not unheard of for the complaint to come from within the legislative body itself.

“The reason it happens is because the people who are on that body may be the only ones that know exactly what did transpire in a closed session,” he said. “So if something was discussed or decided that shouldn’t have been in that context, those people are aware of it.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Laura Friedman said the City Council, which is tasked with appointing Starbird’s successor, would soon meet to begin discussing replacement plans.


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