San Juan Capistrano Mayor Wants More Sunshine in Closed Sessions

Mayor Londres Uso gave a verbal lashing to his colleagues at a recent San Juan Capistrano City Council meeting -- saying the city is "taking a step backwards" in the openness and transparency of its government.

Uso has been frustrated with the council's past decisions to keep closed session discussions locked up from the public. He specifically mentioned the city's unsuccessful negotiations for the purchase of two buildings at the end of Valle Road that had been possible locations for a new city hall.

"That particular issue was the straw that broke the camel's back," Uso said.

City attorney Omar Sandoval -- and other council members -- argued that they have always followed California's open government law, known as the Brown Act.

Uso agreed that his fellow council members have not violated the letter of the Brown Act. But he said they do violate the spirit of the law by refusing to discuss issues that can be discussed in closed session, but don't need to be.

Using the now dead real estate deal as exhibit "A," Uso says the city has fallen short on its promise to residents to be as "open as humanly possible."

"Why keep particulars out of the public eye, when there is no longer a strategic advantage to the city?" Uso said, who added that the council's decision meant that he was not at liberty to discuss the deal.

I have since filed a Public Records Act Request for information on the real estate deal.

At a recent meeting, Uso's colleagues both chided Uso for his comments and asserted themselves as unquestionably law abiding when it comes to the Brown Act.

"If you lose a closed session vote four to one, you pack it up," Allevato said, a remark that Uso said was meant for him.

Allevato then lectured the council on the importance of keeping the lid tight when there is a council wide consensus to do so. It's not the right of a councilmember to release the content of closed session discussions, Allevato said.

"If I do it on my own, shame on me," Allevato said. "I will stand to be sanctioned."

Councilman Mark Nielsen argued that the council makes "strategic" and "tactical" decisions to release information on a case-by-case basis. Anytime the council decided not to disclose a closed session item it was because doing so would hurt city and resident interests, Nielsen claimed.

"I can state unequivocally that anything we do in closed session follows the spirit of the law and the letter if the law," he said.



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