SANTA ANA — I have written numerous times about the failures of the Santa Ana City Council to follow state law and open their meetings to the public. It’s beginning to look like they are more interested in looking stupid, than granting the basic transparency supposedly guaranteed by law. At their meeting this past Monday, they fell back into their familiar pattern of locking themselves away from public view.
The Voice of OC‘s Adam Elmahrek has launched a new feature story called Santa Ana Closed-Session Watch. His inaugural story on the topic demonstrates the complete and total disdain for the rights of the public, and media, to basic levels of government transparency required by law. Adam writes:
Closed-door meetings are allowed under a narrow set of exceptions to the Brown Act. The law requires, however, that members of the public be allowed to comment on all matters on the closed-door meeting’s agenda before council members discuss them.
To comply with the law, council members must convene publicly and ask for comments from the public before heading behind closed doors. Yet before and during Monday’s closed-door meeting, the doors to the council chambers were locked. Staffers told a Voice of OC reporter attempting to enter the chambers that council members always meet privately first.
My initial reaction to reading this was an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu. Less than five months ago I wrote about my experience with closed session meeting access in What’s it going to take to get Santa Ana to follow the open meeting laws? In my case, the City Clerk happened to be walking off of the elevator as I was being escorted out of the Police Department headquarters after being told I could not attend the required “public” convening of the closed session meeting. Given this context, imagine my amazement at the Clerk’s reaction to Elmahrek’s experience.
City Clerk Maria Huizar said she had thought staff had unlocked the council chambers doors before the meeting. She said Mayor Miguel Pulido had called for public comments, thinking that the public had access.
“I’ll take the fall on that one,” Huizar said.
Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that Mayor Miguel Pulido called for Public Comment or that the Council even gathered in the Council Chambers to convene in open session before their private meeting.
But Wait! There’s More!
The closed-door meeting was scheduled to be held in its usual place — behind double doors marked “employees only” — but was moved to a private conference room adjacent to the council chambers. There was no public notice of the change.
You’re kidding me, right? I’m left with the same question I had back in February…