San Juan Capistrano

Transparency, not Tyranny!

Editorial

The on-going attempts by certain city officials to intimidate and silence those who disagree with or question their decisions have reached a new and unfortunate low.

We refer to the latest tactic by councilmen Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor, who voted to place on the November 5 council agenda a discussion of whether they should report councilmen Roy Byrnes and Derek Reeve to the Grand Jury, alleging Brown Act violation and breach of fiduciary responsibility, and censure of Reeve for ethics violations.

The allegations leveled against Byrnes and Reeve are patently false. We know this because they revolve around the present ban of all newspapers including the Community Common Sense (CCS) on public property.
Here’s a summary of events:

§ The City allowed newspaper racks outside City Hall and the Community Center for at least ten years - until CCS placed its news rack outside both buildings alongside other news publications.

§ In less than a week, the council majority scheduled a closed door meeting to discuss banning the CCS, justifying secrecy under false pretenses; a made-up “Threat of litigation”. No such threat existed. We believe their motive for this was to shield their discussion from the public. We learned of this closed meeting agenda from our attorney, who is Councilman Derek Reeve. He was informed of the meeting by the City Manager, with only forty-five minutes’ notice. As our attorney, he rightfully recused himself from the meeting.

§ Within a few days, CCS received a letter from City Attorney Hans Van Ligten, ordering us to remove our news racks. We complied.

§ At a subsequent City Council meeting, a question was asked of City Council; “Who made the decision to remove the news racks?” Councilman Byrnes responded that by a vote of 3-1 in closed session, Councilmen Allevato, Kramer and Taylor voted to ban the newspapers (Byrnes was opposed; Reeve had recused himself).

§ As the Brown Act mandates that certain decisions in closed session be reported to the public in open session, a follow-up question was asked; “Was the vote made public?”

§ City Attorney Hans Van Ligten did not deny there was a vote. Instead he stated, “There was no action taken” [in closed session]. Byrnes insisted there was indeed a vote; it was 3-1 but said he couldn’t share the nature of the discussion as that would be a violation of the Brown Act.

Van Ligten claimed the decision to ban the news racks was all his – that he was merely enforcing Municipal Code; but why, after 10 years, were the rules being changed? Clearly action was taken as a result of the closed door meeting, because the City Attorney ordered the news racks removed from City property immediately after the meeting.

§ At the October 15 regular council meeting, Councilmen Larry Kramer and Sam Allevato publicly denounced Byrnes and Reeve, suggesting that Byrnes violated the Brown Act by disclosing the closed meeting vote, and that Reeve committed breach of fiduciary duty and ethics violations by representing the CCS and for submitting Public Records Act (PRA) requests for information from the City*.

* According to the California Attorney General, elected officials may represent constituents in legal matters as long as they recuse themselves from votes that may present a conflict, and are also within their legal rights to obtain information from the City they represent via a PRA request.

This spat is not just about the CCS and freedom of the press; it’s about everyone’s right to free speech, especially when faced with government suppression of political dissent.

The Brown Act was established to compel elected officials to conduct the people’s business IN PUBLIC. It is time these elected officials complied with the Brown Act and ceased efforts to intimidate into silence individuals who are asking legitimate questions about the way they conduct THE PEOPLE’S business.



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems like there are a lot of decisions made around City Hall that are based on decisions made away from the public and the council.

For example, how much money did this self-congratulatory "Good News" newsletter cost? A professionally produced 4-color brochure was mailed to everyone in town. When did the decision to spend this money come before the Council? And who exercises editorial control over the material?

Editorial Board said...

Anonymous -

All good questions.

A PRA request for information for the last public relations "newsletter" distributed to SJC residents was approx $8000.

We are unsure whether these public relations pieces require council approval. We are also unsure who exercises editorial control over the material, but we assume the City Manager is ultimately responsible for approving the material.

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