Jul 29, 2010

Bell and the Brown Act

It's unlikely that anyone in the city of Bell wants to see the City Council reconsider its decision slash the exorbitant salaries of its four highest paid members by 90 percent. But someone probably could.

That's because the Bell City Council almost certainly violated the state's open-meetings law at least twice - and probably three times - in the course of Monday's raucous meeting (hear more about the meeting here).

First, the council headed into closed session to discuss several potential lawsuits stemming from the salary scandal without first allowing the public to speak. Then, the council voted to make the salary cuts without first letting the public speak. Finally, agenda item that was supposed to alert the public that council salaries might be slashed made no mention that a vote would be taken.

 All of these are potential violations of the state's open-meetings law, known as the Brown Act, which requires, among other things, that the public be allowed to speak before any final decision is made. Bell's own agenda spells this out (the .pdf version is here): "Pursuant to the Ralph M. Brown Act, public comments may be received on these items prior to the time action is taken by the City Council."

Even a court agreed the violations occurred, the punishment would hardly fit the crime: A judge would probably be forced to rescind the vote and restore the salaries until the council acted in the right way.

But even technical violations of the law should be pointed out to ensure the public learns it's rights. Also, it was clear the hundreds of people who attended Monday's meeting wanted the council members to hear their displeasure before any action was taken. Indeed, most speakers wanted the council members to resign.

Is anyone going to sue to force the council to redo the vote? Doubtful. But this does serve as evidence that the council, whatever it is paid, still doesn't understand it's role as a representative government.

1 comment:

pasadenapio said...

This was exactly my reaction when I saw the article about their closed-door meeting.