Atascadero City Council shuts off dialog with public

August 3, 2011

OPINION By DAVID BROADWATER

From now on, when Atascaderans give public comments during Community Forum at City Council meetings, they can no longer receive the customary and occasional responses from council and staff members allowed by California’s open meeting law.

Previously, under the Brown Act, in response to questions and matters raised regarding non-agenda issues, the public could expect those assembled officials may ask to clarify a question, direct people to information, briefly discuss matters raised, or direct an issue to be a subject of a staff report or agenda item at a future meeting.

Those responses are now banned.

Under a prohibition suddenly announced and unilaterally instituted by the Mayor Tom O’Malley at the July 12 Council meeting, none of those responses will be allowed during Council meetings – turning what was once a two-way street into a one-way alley. There was no public notice about these major restrictions, nothing on any agenda, no opportunity for public comment, and no discussion, motion, vote or explanation of the rationale for them.

This prohibition is destructive to the ability of the public to participate in the governmental decision-making process (the purpose of the Brown Act), undermines the motivation to participate in Council meetings, subverts the government’s capacity to respond to emerging issues, and prevents public servants from performing their duties.

Furthermore, the restrictions were concocted behind closed doors, well in advance of the July 12 meeting, as evidenced by the agenda for that meeting posted on July 5. The description of Community Forum on that agenda was changed in a manner identical to the response ban implemented a week later, i.e. no response to questions, no discussion, and termination of previously permitted agendizing of matters raised.

Apparently, more than one week prior to July 5, some members of city management, staff and/or council discussed, deliberated and decided upon this prohibition, completely out of public view, in violation of the Brown Act.

At their August 9 meeting, the Council will hear from citizens demanding this prohibition be immediately declared null and void, that the full range of legally permissible responses be restored, and that any future such restrictions be considered the right way – in public, on the record and subject to public comment.

People concerned about this can attend that meeting at 6:00 p.m. or email the Councilmembers: citycouncil@atascadero.org, tomalley@atascadero.org, bkelley@atascadero.org, jclay@atascadero.org,rfonzi@atascadero.org, bsturtevant@atascadero.org

David Broadwater is a long time Atascadero resident and a local activist.


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MikeBrennler

I too was surprised when the council enacted the new language reference the public comment forum.


Answers to the simple questions posed by the public is essential in establishing trust and transparency and when the public has difficulty acquiring the information through official channels then it is absolutely appropriate for them to pose the question in an open forum.


In the past several meetings I have pointed out that City Officials have allowed vacation leave to be accrued in direct violation of the personnel system rules. The biggest benefactor of the violation is the City Manager, Wade McKinney, who has amassed over a thousand hours of vacation leave with a value exceeding $90,000.00.


When I first began raising the issue, McKinney suggested that the rules were skirted on advice of a previous city attorney. When I first began to seek the identity of this attorney, city officials balked and refused to answer. Thereafter, they suggested the advice was given by multiple attorneys.


Ultimately one attorney was identified but he has refused to comment citing attorney client privilege.

He suggested that he could discuss the matter should the city waive the privilege but I suspect that there is little chance of that.


The whole thing stinks of unethical behavior and I am sure that this is a part of the council’s grand scheme … protecting McKinney at all cost.


pasoparent5

Please don’t stop, Mr. Brennler. Your city would benefit from more citizens like you, who stir the pot to get to the truth. Sooner or later, the council’s/city staff’s house of lies will come crumbling down.


standup

Tom, Jerry, Roberta, you guys disgust me.


Mr. Holly

Bingo!

I thinkthe fact that Mr. O’Malley is apparently posturing himself to run against Patterson for Supervisor and Fonzi wants to me Mayor that this will supress any comments that could come back to haunt them.


MaryMalone

1. Atascadero City Council’s move is, I think, called “circling the wagons.” I wonder what is coming down the pike that they don’t want to be held accountable for by their constituents at council meetings?


2. From the news lately, apparently in SLO County, the Brown Act is not really a law…more of a “concept.”


Alon_Perlman

Nicely done Mr. Broadwater. While the Brown Act does allow the governing bodies to set some limits on discussion, you have identified that this action is taking place without public input and that a Brown act violation may had taken place for the Agenda to have been modified in advance to the new policies and procedures. Those new policies were only formally accepted in the meeting, so instituting them on that meetings agenda printed prior to the meeting, may be a violation also of the policies and procedures of the board.

Anyway; Good Luck, Keep on Keeping on and Ditto to “Justme”s comments at the bottom.


ds_gray

It should be clear that the motivation for this is to prevent anyone from speaking out-of-turn and potentially opening up investigations into ‘unethical’ activity based on the responses’ i.e. they can’t be sued if they keep their mouths shut.


Fine. Its the council’s prerogative to ‘remain silent’ during open ‘discussion’. This just means the local press (CalCoastNews) is starting to get on their nerves. Good on ya, CCN!


oto

Dear David Broadwater,

I agree with ds_gray. Similar tactics have been attempted by OCSD’s new counsel Molly Thurmond–she’s been pimped out to us by Hall & Hiatt, after SLO County Counsel’s Office dropped their contract. After that, one of the OCSD directors suspended the Rasph Brown Act, though she may honestly have not realized she was breaking the law–After all, Mary Lucey was the only director who didn’t show up to the Ralph Brown training offered earlier this year.


So! If we can’t even ask our government officials questions and give them their First Amendment option to answer or not, what’s the alternative?


A good answer was found on a Florida FORECLOSURE web site, which discussed the “private attorney general doctrine.” That doctrine was used successfully to prosecute election fraud in Oceano when two OCSD directors attempted to break the law by appointing Guiton realtor Lori Angello without the required unanimous votes of three other directors. However, “case law has no precedent” in SLO, and sometimes victory depends upon whether the judge has recovered from his hangover, or not.


That victory was immediately transmitted to the California Association of County Counsels, and like all good laws, it will now be the aim of every member of that organization to dismantle it. You have to remember, government lawyers are like sharks: they have small cortexes and 70% of their brains are dedicated to olfactory senses. When they smell money in the water, it creates a feeding frenzy that is primitive and amoral.


You could always try suing under the SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Policy) but that might require you to first become a defendant, as in ask the question anyway, then dare them to arrest you. I do think the Board must be afraid of something. Did they give any written explanation, or cite a law which allows them to do this?


The great thing about the Florida Web site is the fact that the East Coast has gone one step farther than SLO in prosecuting its construction contractors. It is publicizing news that its judicial system is just as culpable. After two Florida assistant attorneys general were fired who successfully prosecuted fraudulent foreclosures, someone decided to start a Web site to document cases of intimidation against the public’s interest.


Intimidation of attorneys who prosecute in the public interest is something that requires an organized and concerted effort in their defense. Members of the public who are threatened with arrest for asking for public records, or an explanation why their water bills doubled during the last period of flooding in the South County, need to know how to remove their elected or appointed politicians.


The thing I liked best on this Florida Web site was this information related to the RICO federal law:


“Another excellent example of the “private attorney general” provisions is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. RICO allows average citizens (private attorneys general) to sue those organizations that commit mail and wire fraud as part of their criminal enterprise. To date, there are over 60 federal statutes that encourage private enforcement by allowing prevailing plaintiffs to collect attorney’s fees.”


My guess as a non-lawyer member of the public is that, if the Atascadero City Council broadcasts its meetings via Cable, and the Web, any laws they violate, or any fraud or violation of a civil right by means of a common plan between a council members and their acting attorney, might fall under the RICO provision– because the violation was furthered by the use of federal airwaves and wireless or cable technology.


The most important evidence of intent to defraud is a pattern of activity which can be documented by separate victims. If you have such a blanket violation of a basic Constitutional Right, the remedy would be to get each aggreived party to document it in writing in a central location, such as CCN. Then, get the bastards out of office even if you have to revert to counting your votes by hand to guarantee the integrity of the voting process.


Final thing is, contact your local Veterans of Foreign Wars office and ask one of them to come and ask a question. Then get about a 100 audience members to raise signs that say “FUCK TOM OMALLEY” if they try to prevent those guys from asking a question.


pasoparent5

This isn’t surprising, is it? The council, city manager and staff are sick of being pestered by Mike Brennler, David Broadwater and other “troublemakers.” Shame on the likes of these citizens for wanting transparency in government! Tsk tsk to the brave, informed citizens of Atascadero who stand up, ask valid questions, and expect answers. We should just bow down and blindly accept anything Wade McKinney says…NOT!


OK. Sarcasm aside–shame on you, Mayor O’Malley and your colleagues. Just tell us; what are you trying to hide now?


danika

Whose interest are they serving with this action?


LittleAcorn

No kidding. I hope that they are committing political suicide. I’d vote for anyone to get rid of them. Well, maybe not anyone, but certainly not them.


easymoney

What could go wrong here?


justme

They only open their mouths to change feet anyway.

David, what are you doing in Atas. by the way?.. A guy with your clarity and insight belongs in SLO keeping a steady monitoring on the real powerbrokers in the county.

Your efforts are always admirable and greatly appreciated. I see a much more broad field of play for you there.

Run for something, my man. Anything!! And do it in SLO. You’re wasting your talents in Atas.

Actually I’d love to see you in my sandbox…L.O.