Mayor Miguel Pulido called a Special Meeting of the Santa Ana City Council for Monday evening at 5 pm. The meeting started late, a little after 5:30 pm. While Mayor Pulido was in the building (at least five of us shook his hand at around 5 pm), he was no where in the conference room. I did look under the table just to be sure he wasn’t hiding. Also missing were Councilmember Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Alvarez.
So once we were all settled into the conference room, Councilman Carlos Bustamante called things to order and acknowleged the City Attorney Joseph Fletcher who promptly announced that the first two items on the Agenda would not be discussed. Fletcher stated that the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) conference with the Real Property Negotiator regarding the price and terms of payment for sale of CRA property (in the Station District) was all they would be discussing and that no action would be reported out of the meeting. Bummer, the four members of the public wanting to speak were there to talk about the Station District votes that were illegally taken by Tinajero and Martinez. Bumping the two council items off the agenda seemed to take some of the wind out of their sails.
Seems kind of silly to me to call a Special Meeting to talk about real property negotiations if you have no action to take, but heck, this is Santa Ana and trying to make sense of some things is an effort in futility. For example, the meeting was called to order by Carlos Bustamante. Carlos is not the Mayor, or the Mayor Pro Tem. The only way he can convene a meeting is if the council takes specific action to permit him to do so. Specifically SAMC 2-101 states:
In the absence of the mayor and the mayor pro tem the clerk of the council shall call the council to order and call the roll of the members. If a quorum is found to be present, the council shall, by majority vote of those present, elect a chairman of the meeting to act during the meeting or until one of the regularly designated presiding officers shall appear.
I know they know this process because this is exactly what they did back on June 7th when the council last discussed the Station District and Pulido and Alvarez left the room. So how, and when, did the clerk call the meeting to order andÂ call role? When did theses guys select Carlos to chair the meeting? None of those things happened in public. All members of the public were sequestered out in the lobby on the 8th floor. The meeting was scheduled to start at 5 pm, and it was clear that some discussion and at least one official action (selection of a chairman for the meeting) must have occurred before the public was allowed access to the room. I am pretty certain that these guys were not able to sit quietly in a room for about 1/2 hour and refrain from discussing council business.
There’s this pesky little law, that the Santa Ana City Council seems to have a nasty habit of ignoring; its called The Brown Act (Government Code §§ 54950-54962). This law governs meeting access for local public bodies. It prohibits the council from meeting and taking action in secret. The council is required to convene in public prior to going into closed session. There areÂ few exceptions to this basic rule:
Government Code § 54953 (a) All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
A closed session meeting is one of those situations, but no actions can be taken during closed session or outside public view which have not been identified in the posted agenda. In this case the agenda called for the meeting to be convened in public, and that the first item considered be the acceptance of public comment prior to entering closed session. Because the public was barred from access to the meeting room where a majority of council members were gathered, there is no way for the public to know what may have been discussed, and who participated in discussions, during the 1/2 hour between the scheduled start time of the meeting and the time public access was granted. All we can know for certain is that the majority of the council members must have convened the meeting and selected a chairman for that meeting outside of public view.
As I mentioned previously, four people addressed the council before they went into closed session, Al Amezcua, Julie Stroud, Tish Leon and Claudio Gallegos. All speakers expressed similar concerns over the fact that a special meeting had been called rather than holding these discussions at a regular meeting date and time. All were concerned about transparency and that the special meeting only served to enhance public anxiety over a lack of transparency.
Given the recent revelation that Councilman Tinajero had voted in violation of municipal code on one of the matters on the closed session agenda, the public’s concern over transparency seems warranted. The fact that the council met in secret and took official action, prior to granting public access to their closed session meeting casts yet another dark cloud of suspicion over their actions.
Oh well, that’s just another day in the Banana Republic of Santa Ana.