FAC files Brown Act suit alleging pattern & practice of “notice” violations by LA City Council

FAC–The First Amendment Coalition has filed suit against the Los Angeles City Council over the Council’s failure to tell the public, in advance, that it was about to consider and vote on layoffs of thousands of government workers. FAC’s suit, claiming a “pattern and practice” of violations of the Brown Act, requests declaratory and injunctive relief.

At issue is a City Council special meeting on February 18 at which the Council voted to reaffirm a prior commitment to eliminate 1,000 city jobs and, on top of that, to lay off 3,000 more city employees. Such a controversial action normally would be expected to draw a large crowd of citizens to the Council meeting, many of whom would request to speak about major layoffs. But that did not happen at the February 18 meeting.

The reason? The published agenda notice for the layoff decision (item 15) described the contemplated action as follows:

“Consideration, discussion and possible actions addressing the Fiscal Year 2009-10 and 2010-11 budget deficits, City staff and others to report on budget balancing matters and possible closed executive session as it may relate to bargaining instructions relative to negotiations with employees and employee matters and to provide for the ability to meet in closed executive session as it may relate to bargaining instructions relative to negotiations with employees and employee organizations.”

“You actually have to try hard to write a meeting notice announcing massive layoffs without giving a clue that any jobs will be eliminated,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director. “But the LA City Council has truly mastered the art of writing a notice that confuses, misleads, obfuscates–everything but tell the public what is going on,” Scheer said.

The complaint states that, far from this being an isolated event, the identical notice language was used repeatedly for 37 City Council meetings from February 10 to April 21. In fact, Council motions covered by the repeating notice provision were acted on at just four of these meetings—which serves only to compound the confusion of citizens attempting to find out whether an issue they care about will be taken up at a given Council meeting.

On March 16, FAC delivered a letter to the LA City Council demanding a “cure and correction” of the February 18 Brown Act violation. The Los Angeles City Attorney responded that the agenda Item description “adequately informed the public of the subject under consideration.” FAC filed suit on April 28.

FAC is represented in the case by media attorney Judy Alexander, who serves as special litigation counsel to FAC. For a copy FAC’s complaint in the lawsuit, go here.