What’s it going to take to get Santa Ana to follow the open meeting laws?

So Tuesday was another meeting day for the Santa Ana City Council. I have been tracking their ability, or should I say “lack of ability,” to follow California’s open meeting laws. Of particular focus since the end of September last year, has been the openness with which they hold their closed session meetings.

California law allows public agencies such as cities to conduct certain types of discussions in private. In order to do so they just have to jump through a few little hoops. Besides what topics they intend to discuss, lawsuits and personnel matters mostly, they just have to tell the public where they are meeting, when they are meeting, convene the meeting in public to allow interested individuals to address them on the closed session topics, and then they can adjourn to their private deliberations. If they make any decisions they have to disclose those in public after their closed session meeting.

I have followed four particular closed session meetings since September 27, 2010. At the September 27th Special Meeting the Council convened in secret, where the Mayor and Councilmember Martinez abstained from participation before the public was allowed into the room due to possible conflicts of interest, select a chair for the meeting (in secret), then opened up the room for the public to file in, make public comment, and then adjourned to closed session. The three items of business they conducted in secret, were required to be done in public. Once the meeting began Councilman Bustamante announced that Council member Alvarez would not be attending the meeting as well due to a potential conflict of interest. As I noted in my story Santa Ana Council Special Closed Session Meeting – Yep they screwed up again with Brown Act Violation, the Council broke a few Brown Act regulations with that meeting.

The second meeting was on October 4, 2010. The Voice of Orange County reported in their story The Secretive Starts to Santa Ana City Council Meetingson Santa Ana resident Mike Tardiff’s attempt to attend the closed session of the Council meeting on October 7, 2010.

On Monday, Tardif sat outside the eighth floor offices of the city manager, where the City Council was preparing to begin its closed session portion of the regular meeting, hoping to be able to plead his case before the closed session started. He never got the chance.

On Monday October 18, 2010, a similar problem was experienced by our blogger Claudio Gallegos as well. In my story about the incident Santa Ana City Government – About as transparent as a brick wall I wrote:

The October 18, 2010, closed session meeting was held in the Police Chief’s Conference Room at the Santa Ana Police Department building. This room is not publicly accessible. The meeting was convened without the opportunity for the public to address the Council during public comment on the closed session agenda. I know this because our writer Claudio Gallegos showed up for the meeting at about 5:10 pm and asked to be permitted access to the 4th floor conference room. The officer at the desk informed him that she needed to ring someone in the conference room so they could come down and escort him to the room. She called the room and spoke with someone in the meeting who told her to tell him that anyone who is attending the meeting is to be sent to the Community Room and wait for the closed session to finish.

Well, I was finally able to adjust my schedule so that I could attempt a visit to the closed session meetings in the Police Chief’s Conference Room. That occasion was yesterday, February 22, 2011. I arrived at 4:50 pm the Police Department desk and requested access to the 4th floor meeting. I was initially told that the meeting was in the community room. After insisting that there was a meeting in the Chief’s  Conference Room at 5 pm, and showing the agenda for the meeting%

  9 comments for “What’s it going to take to get Santa Ana to follow the open meeting laws?

  1. Northcountystorm
    February 23, 2011 at 10:25 am

    I guess the good news is that the City Clerk seems to understand the law, even if she might have some difficulty in counting to four.

  2. kepdapeace
    February 23, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Well the council clerk explained it: it’s simply a matter of training. The real problem comes if the state defunds the mandate for the Brown Act. Let’s hope that doesn’t hhappen… anthat Santa Ana gets its hand slapped.

  3. junior
    February 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Kepda –

    I doubt if defunding the Brown Act will have any effect on the enforcement of the Brown Act. Primary enforcement of the BA is done through lawsuits against the offending government agency. The Act will remain in place and lawsuits (rare as they are) can still go forward.

  4. junior
    February 24, 2011 at 6:18 am

    “What’s it going to take to get Santa Ana to follow the open meeting laws?”

    Answer: A lawsuit.

    Chris – Do I get a prize for providing the correct answer?

  5. Get a clue
    February 24, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Thank you so much Chris for you continued intrest in this corrupt council.
    As an disgusted, angry citizen, tired of ALL of this I’m more than ready to be part of a lawsuit to finally end this.
    Miguel and company have a laundry of list rediculous projects on the table to spend federal funds, that ultimately would line Miguels pockets and ruin this City and my property values. NOW is the time to stop them, before any more damage is done.

  6. jose s.
    February 24, 2011 at 10:10 am

    junior is right nothing like a lawsuit to change things and make this corrupt city counsil and mayor pay attention. instead of filing lame “nambla” lawsuits this is what you should be focusing on. i’m sure people would be happy to help out on the cost i’ll pledge a 100 bucks to this if you want to get the ball rolling. and good job prevatt thank you for being such a pitbull on this.

  7. francisco barragan
    February 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Chris,

    Thank you for this story, and for your perseverance in working to make sure the City of Santa Ana stops the repeated violations of the Brown Act -“Open Meeting” requirements.

    Keep us updated to see if they finally correct themselves.

    It is troublesome to think they were attempting to improperly send you away, when they already had a quorum.

    The responsibility to ensure that there is proper Quorum and that the proper procedures are followed belongs to all of the members of the City Council, but more so in particular the Mayor as the Chair, and the Mayor Pro-Tem.

    P.S. I am posting your stories relevant to Santa Ana at the “Santa Ana Coalition for Better Government” Linkedin Group account.

    thanks,

    Francisco “Paco” Barragan

  8. junior
    February 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    We could start with a petition letter requesting the specific changes that Santa Ana residents would like to see made to City Council and Commission meeting procedures.

  9. jose s.
    March 1, 2011 at 7:53 am

    junior, you had it right the first time a lawsuit is the only language they will understand please remember were dealing with animals here.

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