Investigation of Santa Ana Brown Act Violation referred to Attorney General

Claudia Alvarez

On Tuesday Chris Prevatt, publisher of TheLiberalOC, filed a complaint with the Orange County District Attorney (DA) over the apparent violation of the Brown Act by Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez, and the City Council at the August 2nd city council meeting. As Prevatt reported here, Alvarez interrupted Santa Ana resident Albert Castillo’s public comments and ordered the podium microphone turned off because he had criticized the Mayor by name in his comments. Alvarez announced that she was concerned that, since Castillo was an alleged supporter of Mayor Miguel Pulido’s opponent, he might start saying that “he (Mayor Pulido) was self-interested.”

In his email to the DA Prevatt wrote:

“They (the City Council) appear to be operating on rules that are not readily apparent but clearly restrict any critical speech about individual members of the council or their actions.  Given the pattern and practice of this Council related to public comment, coupled with their existing internal policy that improperly restricts the content of public speech, I feel it is imperative that a judicial order be sought to direct the council as to what actions they must take to maintain compliance with the Brown Act.”

“It is imperative that action be taken immediately to compel the City to fully comply with the Brown Act. It would be preferable for such an action to be taken immediately by the District Attorney to prevent any further harm to the public right preventing them from addressing their elected officials. The next meeting is scheduled for August 17th.”

Santa Ana has a policy regarding public comment that is written on the Speaker Request Form for Council meetings. In addition to indicating that speakers are limited to 3 minutes to address the Council, the form lays out the policy in detail.

Nowhere on the form does it indicate that comments critical of Council members are prohibited. Yet based upon the video of the exchange between Castillo and Alvarez it is clear the Council interprets the policy as restrictive of such commentary. The DA is the appropriate venue to level such complaints of Brown Act violations. However, in this case Alvarez is a deputy district attorney, there is an inherent conflict of interest for the DA to investigate such violations by one of his employees. The DA’s office was quick to respond to the complaint and yesterday afternoon, Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder informed Prevatt that the matter “was referred to the Attorney General’s Office as one of the people on the City Counsel is a deputy district attorney.  Please direct all of your inquiries to them.”

I did have a chance to speak with Councilman Vincent Sarmiento today and ask him about this particular meeting. I focused on a comment he made to Mr. Castillo by mentioning the comments Mr. Castillo was making were not true. Councilman Sarmiento clarified that he took issue with Mr. Castillo’s comments that Mayor Pulido opposed Proposition 187 while Sarmiento thought Mayor Pulido HAD in fact endorsed the proposition. The Councilman later mentioned he may have been mistaken and did call Albert Castillo to straighten things out. (Point of clarification, Miguel actually opposed and endorsed Prop 187.)

Councilman Sarmiento went onto say that in his conversation with Mr. Castillo, he invited him back to the meeting to speak and mentioned Mr. Castillo would not be cut off again and would be free to mention Councilmembers by name as long as it is not slanderous or name calling, such as calling one of the members a “jerk.”

Councilman Sarmiento went onto say that he was concerned that there was not enough clarification as to what the Brown Act allows. He mentioned he is working with the City Attorney to brief the Councilmembers so that Monday’s incident does not happen again.

My personal opinion, Claudia Alvarez knew exactly what she was doing when she cut off Albert Castillo. The point was to cover up potentially embarassing information that could hurt the Mayor’s chances of re-election. What it amounts to is a blatant attempt to silence the truth. She should be punished for what she did, it was not an accidental misinterpretation of the law, it was intentional and malicious.

We are waiting for confirmation from the Attorney General’s Office the the matter had been referred to them. We will let you know what they have to say as soon as we do.

  25 comments for “Investigation of Santa Ana Brown Act Violation referred to Attorney General

  1. at lomeli
    August 12, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Brown Act
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, search
    The Brown Act, officially known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, was an act of the California State Legislature, authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953, that guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.[1]

    The Brown Act, originally a 686 word statute that has grown substantially over the years, was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials. City councils, county boards, and other local government bodies were avoiding public scrutiny by holding secret “workshops” and “study sessions.” The Brown Act solely applies to California city and county government agencies, boards, and councils. The comparable Bagley-Keane Act mandates open meetings for State government agencies.

    Contents [hide]
    1 History
    2 Criticisms
    3 Brown Act Sections
    4 See also
    5 Notes
    6 References
    7 External links

    [edit] History
    The introduction to the Brown Act describes its purpose and intent:[2]

    In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

    A local newspaper opined of the act:

    “ A law to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, save under the most exceptional circumstances, should not be necessary. Public officers above all other persons should be imbued with the truth that their business is the public’s business and they should be the last to tolerate any attempt to keep the people from being fully informed as to what is going on in official agencies. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Instances are many in which officials have contrived, deliberately and shamefully, to operate in a vacuum of secrecy. ”
    —Sacramento Bee, October 1952

    [edit] Criticisms
    Supporters of the Brown Act say it still lacks enforcement, contending the law has been eroded by court decisions and government officials’ efforts to block access to records. “The unfulfilled promise, I’m afraid, that 50 years has revealed, is enforcement,” commented Terry Francke, of the California First Amendment Coalition, on the 50th anniversary of the bill’s passage in 2003.

    [edit] Brown Act Sections
    Title and definitions
    Adjourned or continued meetings
    Closed sessions
    Documents at meetings are public
    Emergency situations
    Electronic Communications
    Public is not required to provide their name or any information
    No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not on the agenda
    Notice of meetings
    Open Meetings
    Penalty to deprive the public of information
    Public comment
    Public criticism allowed
    Recording the proceedings -You have the right
    Reports of closed session actions
    Special meetings
    Taxes
    Time limits for public testimony
    When it does apply
    When it does not apply
    Willfully interrupting a meeting

    (c) The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body. Nothing in this subdivision shall confer any privilege or protection for expression beyond that otherwise provided by law. Return to Index

    The council clearly violated this in regards to Mr Castillo’s public comments testimony. The video previously present shows Ms. Alvarez asking for a vote and given by the council to violate Mr. Castillo’s Brown Act right to criticise the acts and omissions of a council member.

    • Lisann Martinez
      August 13, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Chris,

      They should review all the city council meetings, there was a time that I had threatened a brown act violation. Because they did not let me talk at a meeting. When it is a major item they change the public speaking to the beginning of the meeting and I don’t think that is fair. If a person want to just stand up there for 3 minutes and not say nothing that is their rights. Usually if someone wants to speak on several different agenda items they tell them to do the public speaking where you can talk about anything, and tell you that addresses all your items that you want to speak on. I guess they are more concerned with getting home. But they were elected to that post and if there are a hundred people there at the meeting that want to speak on an agenda item. They have to let them speak about that agenda item. If they want to speak on an off agenda item they have to let them speak!
      I was once at a meeting when Pulido said that the City Council in Santa Ana New Mexico, or San Antonio Texas would start accepting speaker forms by e-mails that were sent in and listen to each person speak sometimes it would take all night. (I believe this is the proper way) But Santa Ana has their own agenda.
      If you look back on the original charter the city of Santa Ana is a dual chair which is run by the Mayor and City Manager, it has changed now (with out the vote of the people) it now reads a Mayor/city council run City.

  2. Steve
    August 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    It seems that there is a core group on this Council which has adopted a “you’re either with us or you’re against us” approach to governance. There is no room for dissension or disagreement without being publicly castigated. Could that be less democratic?

  3. Mr brown
    August 12, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    It seems that the city council and mayor are referee to in that rules handout as “the council”

    If you refer to a individual councilperson, not necessary a council person, does it not state that you failed to comply with the rules.

    I guess the Mayor is a part of the council and cannot be singled out.

    Semantics!

    DA will do nothing and the AG will do even less.

    Just my prediction.

    Also, I have seen many other speaker critical of mayors, including mansoor of Costa Mesa, and where shown the door, one time arrested. Did anybody refer this matter to the DA?

    We are getting pissed off at Puilido but not questioning other mayors, councils…like Mannsoor

    Did this person addresss his comments to the council or

  4. foraveragejoe
    August 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Claudio G:

    Generally, I am supportive of the City Council.

    1) CLARIFICATION On your clarification:
    You said, “Councilman Sarmiento clarified that he took issue with Mr. Castillo’s comments that Mayor Pulido [OPPOSED]Proposition 187 while Sarmiento thought Mayor Pulido HAD in fact [ENDORSED]the proposition.

    Was it the other way around, that he took issue with Mr. Castillo’s comments that Mayor Pulido [ENDORSED ] Propostion 187, while Sarmiento thought Mayor Pulido had in fact [OPPOSED ] the proposition.

    Can you please clarify,which is it?

    2) “The Councilman later mentioned he may have been mistaken and did call Albert Castillo to straighten things out. (Point of clarification, Miguel actually opposed and endorsed Prop 187.)”

    The issue is not necessarily what Councilman Sarmiento or any of the other Councilmembers BELIEVED, but the FACT that MR. Castillo’s RIGHT to criticize the acts or omissions of the city council members were VIOLATED.

    Denying this most basic of rights has a chilling effect on Free Speech and on the citizens’ right to oversee their elected officials.

    3) All City Council members should have known better, and in particular the TWO attorneys on the Council.

  5. August 12, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Bear with me for just a moment. I promise it will make sense.

    According to Merriam Webster online:
    epitaph:
    1: an inscription on or at a tomb or a grave in memory of the one buried there
    2: a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person or something past

    epithet:
    1 a: a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing b: a disparaging or abusive word or phrase c: the part of a taxonomic name identifying a subordinate unit within a genus

    OK, bearing these definitions in mind, now look at the 5th bullet point on the list of rules for addressing the city council.

    And the city council all graduated college. How? Oh, wait. I get it. We’re being punked.

    • foraveragejoe
      August 13, 2010 at 12:39 am

      @ Bill Spaulding:

      Great Catch!

    • August 14, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Well played!

  6. art lomeli
    August 13, 2010 at 9:18 am

    foraveragejoe on August 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    “3) All City Council members should have known better, and in particular the TWO attorneys on the Council.”

    Making the matter worse is that the the city attorney or a representative is present at meetings to correct such actions by the council or answer policy questions by the council and/or public.

    Why was the city attorney silent when the Brown Act was being violated in regards to Mr. Castillo’s right to comment.

    As you might know a requirement for commissioners and council members is a mandatory course on the Brown Act by the city attorney’s office.

    There is no defense on not understanding the parameters of the Brown act by the council. This is silly, offensive and insulting.

    • Lisann Martinez
      August 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm

      Do you remember when Claudia broke the ethics rule when I was running against her. She was making comments about Michele Martinez, and how we must be related. She can be such an eloquent speaker at times. Then so ignorant at other times. I think she has been sitting next to Pulido too long.

      • jose s.
        August 14, 2010 at 9:24 am

        lisann, she also called martinez a drug dealer. if martinez was a drug dealer and went on to straighten out her life and eventually become a councilwoman i think thats a great story. thats really something to be admired but to alvarez all she sees is a drug dealer. she failed at being elected to higher office and is frustrated thats why she kisses pulidos ass now and silences anybody who speaks out against him. she will never hold higher office that a councilwoman in santa ana people just dont like her.

  7. Bladerunner
    August 13, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    There was no question that Mr. Castillo had attitude and was hell bent on making his political point. But his rant was entirely within his right to comment. This was not even a close call. I appreciate how difficult it may be for council members to suffer through some of the political broadsides against a colleague but that’s the price of office–you have to grin and bear it. The irony is that there were only a few people in the audience and the few people who saw this on tv probably have their mind made up on the mayors race. No one was going to remember one thing Mr. Castillo said. Now, the story has some legs, Castillo got some publicity, it gives people another arrow to sling at the mayor and council, all to keep Castillo quiet for 90 seconds.

    Everyone makes mistakes. The Council should man/woman up and admit that they overreacted and violated the Brown Act , give Mr. Castillo his 90 seconds(I estimate he got about 1/2 of his time before the interruptions)to tee up on the mayor, have the City Attorney do a Brown Act study session to help reduce the chances for future violations, and move on.

    • August 14, 2010 at 9:57 am

      Bladerunner,

      You are absolutely on target Part of the problem they face however is the Council and Mayor have allowed Ms. Alvarez to continue to violate the Brown Act even after it was called to their attention. I cite the case of Lupe Moreno back in April as an example.

      The problem with a Study Session is that if they use their current City Attorney to teach the session they will notlearn anything. Afterall, he is the one whotold them that they couls silence critical comments in the first place.

      The problem the city has regarding public disclosure laws is another problem. The city routinely makes people wait 10 days before they respond to a public records request, even if the information is readily accessible. It is the City Attorney who has promoted that misapplication of the California’s pubic records law.

      This level of arrogance and ignorance of law is not confined to ust a few instances. The problem is embedded in the culture of City Hall.

  8. Brown Act Violators R Us
    August 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Now Art “NAMBLA” Pedroza chimes in over at the NAMBLA & Sal Tinajero promoting joke of a blog to remind us all that while it’s our right to speak against tyranny in Santa Ana, should we really be allowed too. This guy can’t pay his bills or understand the law either apparently.

    • August 14, 2010 at 9:47 am

      The only time Art really want’s free speech is when he is speaing. Otherwise he does everything in his power to silence people. In particular he and his boy-toy Sean H. Mill love to push their pawns on the city council to kick people who they disagree with off of commissions. It is nice to see that Art has finally learned to read a law. Too bad for him he ddn’t do so before he decided to steal business names, link them to NAMBLA, and then demand thousands of dollars in extortion payments to make him stop.

  9. junior
    August 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I thought that it was hilarious that Pulido used Alvarez as his “protector” – Pud was moderating Public Comments until he came under scrutiny by a member of the public – and then he unleashed Claudia on that member, ha – ha!! What a wuss that Pud is …..

  10. August 14, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Welcome back Bladerunner. You are one of a very few anon commenters I enjoy hearing from (Howard by thy name is another)

    • Bladerunner
      August 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks. This circular firing squad performance was too good to ignore.

  11. Randall
    August 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Any violation of law by an attorney (other than minor traffic violations) should be reported to the State Bar.

    • August 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm

      Interesting point. Would that have to wait for a decision from the AG first, or could it be reported to the Bar regardless? Also, who could do such reporting?

      • Randall
        August 16, 2010 at 10:26 am

        Anyone can file a complaint with the Bar. And the complaint does not need to relate to the practice of law. You don’t have to wait for a Court ruling but the Bar will not normally take any action with a case pending.

  12. August 16, 2010 at 8:28 am
    • Al Simmons
      August 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      And it was on the KABC Channel 7 news last night.

      I think with the city of Bell drawing attention to the issues of questionable government, any city engaging that exhibits bad behavior is going to be in the headlights.
      Here’s to the mayor and city council of Santa Ana’s shady behavior doing what they say they always wanted; putting the city “on the map”.

Comments are closed.