Will the Newport Beach City Council meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss the process for hiring a new city manager?

That’s the question after residents Jim Mosher and Susan Skinner emailed the City Clerk’s office Sunday and warned the city is violating state transparency laws by attempting to discuss the hiring process in closed session.

City Attorney Aaron Harp wrote back Monday morning and said the closed session complies with the Ralph M. Brown act, the state’s 65-year-old transparency law regulating local governments.

Voice of OC Open Government Consultant Terry Francke disagreed.

“And while a local body can go into closed session to talk about a specific person or persons, whom they’re considering for a hire, if they don’t have anyone specific in mind, if they’re just talking about the process, that is not the basis for the closed session in the Brown Act,” Francke said in a Monday phone interview.  

City Clerk Leilani Brown, who put the item on the agenda, Monday attached a memo to the closed session item on the agenda recommending it be cancelled. An employee at the clerk’s office said Brown told her the item “most likely” won’t remain in closed session.

“My understanding is that there was a complaint made to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office related to an alleged Brown Act violation. The City Attorney’s Office received confirmation from the District Attorney’s Office that they will not be pursuing the matter due to insufficient evidence related to the allegations made in the complaint,” Brown’s letter reads.  

Her letter continues, “However, since I was directed by the City Council to manage the hiring of the executive search firm and in the interest of transparency, I am recommending that the Closed Session item be cancelled.”  

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ray Armstrong wrote an email to Skinner and said the situation doesn’t warrant an investigation.

“After reviewing the matter, we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to warrant intervention by the District Attorney’s Office at this time. As you are undoubtedly aware, the code does provide for the private enforcement of the Brown Act, should you wish to pursue this matter further,” Armstrong wrote Monday afternoon.

Additionally, there’s a public item on the agenda for the city to sign a contract with a recruitment firm to help the city narrow its search for city manager candidates. Last month, City Manager David Kiff announced he is retiring later this year after 20 years with the city and nearly 10 years as its city manager.

Harp, in a Monday afternoon email to Voice of OC, echoed what the clerk’s office said.

“Sounds like she doesn’t need to go to Closed Session. However, looks like recruitment of executive search firm is still on calendar,” Harp wrote.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.

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