|City Council Routinely Violates
March 22, 2005
The following is from today’s West County Times. One correction: I was critical of the City Council discussing hiring Casimere as a consultant on a contract basis in closed session but not in conducting interviews of anyone for the position as a City employee. Furthermore, this was about process, not about Casimere, who by all accounts was an exceptionally good investigator in his previous employment in Richmond. The Brown Act does not allow closed session discussions about hiring contractors.
I continue to maintain that the City of Richmond is obsessed with secrecy and uses the Brown Act, with the encouragement of the City Attorney, with extreme liberty to routinely justify wide ranging discussions in closed session of matters that are not subject to the Brown Act and are not on the agenda.
Council broke privacy law, two say
Posted on Tue, Mar. 22, 2005
RICHMOND - Two City Council members say their colleagues violated state open meetings law this month by secretly hiring a contractor to investigate complaints against police officers, and may do so again today by voting privately on whether to hire him as a city staffer.
"(Interim City Attorney) Everett Jenkins thinks it's OK to violate the Brown Act as long as he announces what we talked about in open session," Councilman Tom Butt, said Monday. "I say we had no business talking about this in closed session to begin with."
The council voted in closed session March 8 to hire Don Casimere, a longtime investigator for the Richmond Police Commission who left in 1999 to help found Sacramento's Office of Public Safety Accountability.
Jenkins said Butt was wrong. Discussions about hiring Casimere were confidential personnel matters protected by state law, he said.
Does the council ever violate open meeting law? "Not to my knowledge," Jenkins said. "I can say that, for all the people complaining, whenever any (public meeting) issue comes up, I touch with (deputy district attorney) Jim Sepulveda to make sure we're doing everything in accordance with the law."
Casimere, who still works full time for Sacramento, will earn $75 hourly from Richmond to probe three time-sensitive Police Commission cases, said human resources director Leslie Knight. He accepted the job March 11.
While Butt said he had no objection to hiring Casimere, he asserted the council erred by taking up the hire in closed session, citing a section of the state Government Code in its agenda that covers confidential discussion of pending or possible litigation.
A newspaper association attorney agreed with Butt.
"That is misleading to the public," said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In addition, he said, California voters in November approved Proposition 59, making it a constitutional requirement that governing bodies very narrowly interpret meeting laws in favor of public access.
"They can't broadly interpret (an agenda item) to swallow the rule of openness," he said.
The council meets twice today in closed session to interview unnamed candidates and to discuss the permanent position of "police investigative and appeals officer."
While state law permits closed-door discussion of some personnel issues, others are prohibited, including general employment, independent contractors not functioning as employees, salaries, the performance of any elected official, or member of the board, the agency's available funds, funding priorities or budget.
"It is my contention that the City Council regularly and repeatedly violates the Brown Act by meeting in closed session to discuss matters not allowed by law," Butt says in a Monday memo to City Manager Bill Lindsay.
The memo references Butt's recent run-in with Planning Director Barry Cromartie, who this month demanded the council investigate Butt for creating a "hostile work environment." Closed-session council discussion of that matter should likewise not fall under the "pending litigation" designation, Butt claims.
"The numerous discussions of my alleged creation of a hostile work environment should not be allowed unless there was pending litigation," Butt's memo says. "We routinely discuss matter of budgets and budget priorities. Unless this practice ceases, I will begin forwarding complaints to the District Attorney."
Vice Mayor Jim Rogers has also frequently scolded the council for taking up matters in private that do not enjoy state Brown Act privilege.
"I think the city is too comfortable with these violations," said Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin. "And that goes all the way from requiring citizens to sign in at the door of City Hall for City Council meetings to recent discussions in closed session that resulted in the contracting of a police investigator, as well as discussions in closed session on the performance of an elected official."
Police Commission work ground to a halt the first week of January, when the council abruptly fired Joan Kubota, who had replaced Casimere as the commission's investigative and appeals officer in 1999. Kubota has since filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Commissioners bemoaned Kubota's loss, in part because the panel could not rule on complaints without her completed investigations. The commission offers opinions to the police chief about the veracity of complaints of excessive force and civil rights abuses against officers.
Casimere said Monday that because state law and a legal settlement with the police union last year placed a one-year statute of limitations on commission investigations, the council decided to hire him to complete three unfinished cases started before last April 15.
The city is still searching for Kubota's permanent replacement.
"I have received permission from my city manager" to spend a vacation working for Richmond on a contract basis, Casimere said. As for today's meetings involving the permanent position, he said "that is beyond the scope of my duties."