At about 1:20 pm Wednesday afternoon the Santa Ana City Clerk released a notice of a special meeting of the Santa Ana City Council, scheduled for 1:15 pm on Thursday, December 27th. The “Special Meeting” has only two closed session items on the agenda; Performance Evaluations for the City Manager and City Attorney. From what we can tell, there are no scheduled evaluations for either position and if there were, they would have been planned for hearing by the Council at a regularly scheduled meeting.
The emergency nature of a special meeting has raised speculation among community activists that there may be an effort to displace the City Attorney from her employment contract. Activist Jeff Dickman sent an email to members of the City Council shortly after the meeting announcement saying:
“I assume by the odd time for the meeting, and that it is a special meeting with only one day notice for the public to read the agenda that the City may be back-tracking on its commitment to a four-day posting while rushing to dismiss our City Attorney from its employ.”
There is however a minor problem, the City Attorney is not an employee of the city, at least not directly. City Attorney Sonia R. Carvalho was brought on-board under a contract with the law firm where she is a partner, Best Best & Krieger LLP.
As a contract employee, the city council may not be able to meet in closed session to discuss her employment. The Brown Act provides for closed sessions regarding the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline or dismissal of a public employee. (§ 54957.) Since Carvalho is not a “public employee,” a closed session discussion of her performance is not allowed. The discussion of her performance would not fall under the discussion of pending litigation, real property negotiations, or labor negotiations as permitted under the Act.
Note: Upon further review, it appears that there is an exception for an independent contractor who acts as a City official or officer. This exception appears to cover the City Attorney.
There is no such restriction on the discussion of City manager Paul Walters’ performance in closed session. There has been no public indication as to why the sudden need for a special meeting to discuss the job performance of the City Manager and their contract City Attorney. The proximity to last Friday’s special meeting related to the state Department of Finance demand that the City turn over $56 million in funds allocated from the former Redevelopment Agency for affordable housing projects could be the reason. The demand from the state seemed sudden and Council members could be upset at being blind-sided by the demand.
Depending upon the results of the council deliberations Thursday, we may know more when any action is reported out from the meeting.