Saturday, November 10, 2007

Encinitas councilwoman abstains from closed session in protest

Good for Teresa Barth! Secrecy and wrongdoing go hand in hand.

San Diego Union Tribune published this story by Angela Lau on October 17, 2007:

Frustrated that Encinitas City Council's closed sessions are not transparent enough, Councilwoman Teresa Barth abstained from Wednesday night's closed session in protest.

Closed sessions are scheduled to discuss sensitive items, such as litigation strategy. Wednesday night's meeting discussed litigation against F Street bookstore and labor negotiations.

Barth said Wednesday night she will not attend any more closed-session meetings until the city switches its 24-hour notification policy for closed-session agendas to 72-hour notification. She said she wants citizens to have time to prepare to testify before the council begins discussions.

She said her action was prompted by repeated pleas from the public to open closed sessions. She sought outside legal opinion and concluded that the city should give the public 72 hours' notice.

She said she does not consider closed sessions to be special meetings, but regular council meetings. City Attorney Glenn Sabine said in a previous council meeting that closed sessions are special meetings.

Under the Brown Act, special meetings only require 24 hours' notice, whereas regular council meetings require 72 hours' notice.

“The city is meeting the minimum requirements (of the law), but I don't think we are doing this in full disclosure and transparency,” she said, adding that she wants an opinion from the state's attorney general.

Barth's action was consistent with her campaign promise when she ran for office last year. She had said she would try to make city government more transparent.

Shortly after she was installed, Barth said she got the city to notify the public that they can speak on closed-session agenda items before the council commences discussions.

But that was not enough, she said.

Barth's ally, Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, said she attended Wednesday night's closed session, but she wants to do more research to make sure the city is complying with the law.

Encinitas resident Russell Marr, who has been pressuring the council to give more notice on closed-session agenda items and disclose closed-session votes, said the council is violating the Brown Act.

“I told you 10 times about 72-hour notice. It's time you wake up,” he said.

Angela Lau: (760) 476-8240;