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Did council have illegal ‘serial’ meeting?

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POSTED August 13, 2014 1:24 a.m.

Did Manteca City Council members reach a decision to not show up at the Aug. 6 meeting in an illegal manner?

A list of public records requested by city resident Bruce Lowensbery could determine if that was the case. He told the council last week that after gathering information he plans to take the issue to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury.

State law prohibits a quorum of council member to come to a consensus on city business if it is not at a legally scheduled meeting.

Lowensbery is using the Public Records and Freedom Information Act to obtain a copy of all communications to and from the city staff council members, legal counsel, and anyone else related to the scheduling of the Aug. 6 meeting and the subsequent plan to have the meeting postponed a day later by City Clerk Joann Tilton as allowed by under state law when a quorum failed to show up.

All department heads except Public Works Director Mark Houghton who was not in the office that week and Fire Chief Kirk Waters who was helping fight a Northern California wildfire were present as was Councilman Steve DeBrum. The other four council members were attending National Night Out parties.

The council during the July 15 meeting had discussed meeting early on Aug. 6 so they could attend the parties. City Attorney John Brinton said they couldn’t change the start time for the regular council meeting since a public hearing for landscape maintenance fee assessments was taking place. And since the assessments had to be adopted by the council at a regular meeting and not a special meeting prior to mid-August they simply couldn’t call a special meeting to review and adopt the charges that impact upwards of 7,000 Manteca homeowners.

When they talked about the possibility on July 15 of adjourning the Aug. 6 meeting to Aug. 7, Lowensbery spoke up against it saying the council had an obligation to do its job.

Lowensbery and others were present at the Aug. 6 meeting that was supposed to start at 7 p.m. in order to protest the fees.

Lowensbery has asked for all communications on the subject even those using private email accounts and recalled phone conversations regarding the Aug.6 meeting and how it came about that four council members opted not to show up and instead go to the National Night Put parties.

Interpretations of the Brown Act provided by cities such as San Jose for council members note that replying to messages about a specific course of council action as individual council members “can easily lead to a serial meeting prohibited” under state law

“The citizens and staff came for the regularly scheduled meeting and you did not,” Lowensbery told the council last week while reading from a prepared statement. “You have disenfranchised the citizens that took their time to attend and failed to perform the job you were elected to do.  I don’t believe this meeting was properly noticed. I believe this was a shameful scam and if it was legal, it certainly shouldn’t be.”

 

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