A Long Beach resident has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that county supervisors broke the law when they spent millions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects without a public vote or discussion.
“Elected public servants, such as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, have a responsibility to conduct the people’s business in public and to spend public funds wisely,” said Glen Golightly, a screenwriter. “The spending of these funds is done with little or no oversight and violates the Brown Act among other California laws.”
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley briefly examined the supervisors’ discretionary accounts earlier this year before deciding not to file charges against the supervisors alleging they violated the state open-meetings law. Golightly’s attorney, Paul Heidenreich, said his suit would be more successful because his client was pursuing a civil—not criminal—action.
Last year, Heidenreich won a $172-million settlement for plaintiffs from the county to end a class-action lawsuit involving an illegal utility tax paid for years by nearly 400,000 residents and businesses in unincorporated areas.
“Maybe the supervisors will just bring this practice to a stop and start doing the people’s business in public. If not, we’ll be at this for years,” Heidenreich said.
Meanwhile, Terelle Jerricks reports for Random Lengths News:
On April 28, the California First Amendment Coalition filed a complaint against the City of Los Angeles after the City Council refused to “cure and correct” an inadequately noticed February 18 agenda item that surreptitiously called for 4,000 City workers and positions to be cut.
This complaint follows a letter sent by Random Lengths News (A Los Angeles Harbor Area newsweekly) publisher James Preston Allen to City Council president Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich protesting what his paper believes to be a
violation of the Brown Act. The Brown Act is the statute that regulates government meetings, public access to legislative proceedings and taping and broadcast of these meetings. (CA Gov. Code 54950-54959. “The people do not yield their sovereignty to the bodies that serve them. The people insist on remaining informed to retain control over the legislative bodies they have created.”)
The City Council pushed through the job cuts while the Mayor's office, credit agencies, and the Controller's office were laying a great deal of rhetorical heat about making
tough decisions to close the budget gap.
Garcetti's office did not respond to Random Lengths letter, he and the City were served on Thursday April 29.
A copy of the letter was sent to the First Amendment Coalition, whereby after study of the issues involved filed the complaint in Superior Court.
In the complaint, CFAC said it seeks a judicial determination of the adequacy of an agenda item description, which has appeared on the agenda for 29 of the 37 Los Angeles City Council meetings held from February 9, 2010 to April 21, 2010, and was only acted upon four times out of those 29 meetings, making it impossible for the ordinary citizen to know what was being discussed and when.
CFAC also seeks a mandatory injunction directing the City Council to place on its agendas in the future only item descriptions sufficient to adequately inform members of the public about the subject matter and potential actions to be considered pursuant to such description, so that members of the public can determine whether to monitor or participate in any particular meeting of the LACC.
The Brown Act requires that noticed agenda items be written in such a way that they give reasonable notice of the action that a legislative body will consider.
Although the notice needn't be detailed or lengthy, it nonetheless must convey the essence of the action to be considered or taken.
In the Letter to Garcetti and Trutanich, the paper claimed, “Item # 15 appeared to have been written with the intention of giving the public no advance notice of the Council's intent.”
The paper continued, saying, “Indeed, it's hard to imagine a notice provision better calculated to mislead the public. Nowhere is there any mention of staff reductions or layoffs or job cuts. This is a model of obfuscation, in plain defiance of the spirit and letter of both the Brown Act and Prop 59.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act created specific agenda obligations for notifying the public with a “brief description” of each item to be discussed or acted upon, and also created a legal remedy for illegally taken actions– namely, the judicial invalidation of those actions upon proper findings of fact and conclusions of law by a court of law.
Trutanich, who has his own battles with the Mayor over the city budget as it relates to his own department of City Attorney, did however respond to Random Lengths’ complaint prior to the CFAC filing saying that, “It is the opinion of this Office that the agenda description adequately informed the public of the subject under consideration, such that interested members of the public could determine whether to monitor or participate in the City Council meeting.”
The letter continued, saying that the amending motion was germane to the subject matter description, arguing that to be germane, an amendment must in some way involve the same question that is raised by the motion to which it is applied.
Trutanich office noted “that approximately 80 percent of the City’s budget is comprised of the payment of employee wages and benefits. The specter of layoffs not only was germane as a possible budget balancing action related to the item in question, it had been discussed as a possible solution to the City’s budget crisis for months.”