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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 roomÂ 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%