I’ve received numerous notes from insiders wondering how the four members of the City Council — Carl DeMaio, Donna Frye, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner — could have all agreed to something outside of a public meeting.
Most of us are sensitive, of course, to the prohibition against serial meetings outlined in the Ralph M. Brown Act. The prohibition ensures that people on a public governing body — like the City Council — don’t meet individually in order to come to a majority decision in private when they’re required to debate issues in public.
I keep a trusted copy of the book “Open Meetings in California” written by the unquestioned authority on public information and open meetings in California, Terry Francke, from Californians Aware.
In the book, Francke seems to say that in order for a serial meeting to violate the Brown Act, a majority of the people on a governing body must have participated.
The Act may be violated by a deliberately orchestrated consensus process in which a majority of the body achieves a meeting of the minds concerning action to be taken on (or not taken) an item without ever having been present to deal with it “at the same time and place” …
Since there are eight City Council members, a majority is five.
Further, I think that the municipal code actually allows four council members to push an issue to the full council when a committee decides not to, as long as the committee didn’t unanimously oppose it.
Here’s the relevant section:
A Councilmember has the privilege to place on the agenda, under Special Orders of Business, an item which has not been denied by all four members of a committee in order to have the full Council vote on whether the committee decision should be set aside and the matter reheard by the entire Council as being one involving such wide community and public interest that it requires the attention of the full Council. Such privilege shall be exercised by a Councilmember within ten days of the date of a committee’s decision.
All that said, I did call the city attorney to verify he did approve of this.
One commenter, in the post below, makes the point that the fact that Frye and DeMaio were able to use this policy to get a contentious issue onto the full docket for the City Council proves that the status quo does allow them a way around the decisions of committees and the council president.
That’s a good point.