South Pasadena under investigation for alleged Brown Act violation

The district attorney is checking into whether the South Pasadena City Council violated California’s Brown Act, the open meeting law, in interviewing prospective police chiefs in close session. -db

San Jose Mercury News
October 14, 2010
By Brian Charles

SOUTH PASADENA – The District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether the City Council violated provisions of the state’s open meetings law when members went behind closed door to interview candidates for the police chief’s job.

The D.A.’s Public Integrity Unit investigation is focusing on an August meeting in which the closed-door interviews were listed on the council’s agenda as a “performance evaluation of the city manager.”

Under the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meetings law, the city must properly list the topics discussed on the agenda and cannot use placeholder items like the city manager’s review.

On the day of the interviews, South Pasadena City Manager John Davidson declined to comment when asked whether candidates for police chief were being interviewed.

Two job candidates independently confirmed that they were being interviewed in closed session.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Lentz Snyder, who is heading up the investigation, declined to divulge details of the probe, saying any comments could hurt the investigation.

But South Pasadena City Councilman Philip Putnam, while welcoming the investigation, said he was “quite confident” officials would not deliberately violate state law.

“The mayor and city attorney set the agenda,” Putnam said. “I’m quite confident the mayor and city attorney wouldn’t intentionally violate the Brown Act. I think an investigation is a good thing. I’m quite certain there were no Brown Act violations,” he said.

City officials insist City Attorney Richard Adams correctly advised them that the agenda complied with the law.
Adams did not respond to requests for an interview Thursday.

But South Pasadena resident Ron Rosen, a vocal critic of the council, charged that the panel did indeed flout the Brown Act.

“None of this should have been done behind anyone’s back,” he said.

A lawyer by profession, Rosen admitted he is no expert on the Brown Act, but said his interpretation of the law prohibits the council from conducting job interviews, especially behind closed door, since the panel has no power to hire or fire employees other than the city manager.

The Brown Act allows closed-door discussions of personnel matters, but they must be properly listed on the agenda.

“They’re hairsplitters,” Rosen said. “They are using the Brown Act to hide behind it.”

Lentz Snyder, who also is the lead prosecutor investigating former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo in the payroll corruption scandal in that city, said there is a range of possible consequences for violating the Brown Act.

In most cases, the D.A. will issue a stern letter demanding that officials “cure” their agenda, or change the documents to reflect the actual business being discussed in closed session, she said.

In very few cases, prosecutors pursue criminal charges for Brown Act violations.
But the burden of proof for prosecutors in a criminal case involving the Brown Act is very high, she added.

“The city would have had to know that the public was entitled to the information, then do something to restrict access by the public to the information,” said Lentz Snyder.

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  • Creating a public scandal for the purposes of a slanderous character assasination is what neighborhood Watch is all about!People will feed on hate and a City will thrive on the oppression of those who are at a disadvantage.Having a lack of credit.A perfect way to target people.Our Government can serve people in need better than this!

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