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July 11, 2016
Contact Wendy Leece
District Attorney Asked to Investigate Possible Brown Act Violation
A former Costa Mesa councilwoman has asked Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to investigate a possible open meeting violation by the Costa Mesa City Council which she says may have occurred at the July 5 city council meeting.
Wendy Leece, who was termed out in 2014 from the city council, contends the council violated the Ralph M. Brown Act which requires the public to be informed in its meeting agenda of all items the council will be voting on.
“Neither the July 5 agenda nor the agenda report mentioned that the City Council would be discussing and possibly voting that night to put an elected at-large mayor on the November ballot,” Leece said.
Leece cited Government Code 54954.2 (a) which requires public agencies to inform the public in an agenda with a “brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting.”
“This is a big deal and affects the future of Costa Mesa. The public has a right to be heard, and they were denied that right on July 5, at the second of three required public hearings, and I am asking the District Attorney to investigate.”
The city’s current at-large system is allegedly illegal and out of compliance with the California Voting Rights Act and the Federal Voting Rights Act. The City entered into a settlement agreement in April to form geographically defined districts to avoid a lawsuit. The July 5 hearing was the second of three hearings required by the CVRA. The final hearing will be at a special city council meeting Tuesday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the city council chambers.
The open meeting laws make it clear that discussion items must be placed on the agenda, as well as items which may be subject of action by the body. The purpose is to inform the public about the subject matter so they can decide whether to participate.
“There were no details presented in the report regarding the term of office for an elected mayor, the number of terms or any residency requirements,” Leece said. “Can a termed out council member run for mayor? We did not have any information to comment on.”
“By not allowing comment and any opposition to the notion of an at-large elected mayor, the council is in effect prohibiting critical comments and that could be a form of viewpoint discrimination according to a 1997 court decision,” Leece said.
According to the agenda description and staff report, the public was to give input “regarding voting district maps” per items 1 and 2 on the agenda.
“No mention in the agenda or staff report was made of receiving public comment on a at-large elected mayor. It was all about the district maps. The agenda and staff report did not show the whole scope of the Council’s possible choices.”
“At the meeting and in the several outreach meetings, the public overwhelmingly voiced support for five districts. A map showing six districts with an elected at-large mayor was part of the map presentation I attended, but there were no details about an at-large elected mayor mentioned by the consultant. No one liked that idea.”
The five district map, recommended by the consultant as the favored map by the public at outreach sessions was not approved by the council. Instead the council voted 3-2 for the six districts map and an at-large elected mayor.
Currently the mayor is selected by the other city council members and serves two years.
A District Attorney Office representative said the request for an investigation would be given to the Special Assignment Investigation department to determine if an investigation is warranted.
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