Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Lesson on Secrecy and Slippery Slopes



U-T EDITORIAL: NORTH EDITION
Encinitas council learns a lesson on secrecy


March 22, 2008

What a slippery slope a City Council tries to climb when it conducts public business in closed session and by observing only the bare minimum of legal requirements.

Encinitas, now under the council majority of Jerome Stocks, Dan Dalager and James Bond, some time ago changed the way the city schedules closed meetings. It now calls them “special” and gives the public 24 hours notice instead of 72.

This creates the potential for abuse. Someone objecting to the propriety of considering something in closed session has little time to seek relief from the courts.

We have opined on this before. What Encinitas now calls “special,” we call “abhorrent.”



Stocks, mayor for this year, says the 24-hour notice allows the city much more flexibility in arranging a closed-session agenda and is reluctant to have closed meetings on a formal schedule. But, why does Encinitas, a city of 63,000, have so many lawsuits and personnel matters to take up behind closed doors? Presumably, only those who meet in secret know for sure.

Recently, Encinitas took another step to make its government even less transparent. City Council actions taken in the afternoon closed sessions, someone or someones decided, would no longer be reported to the public at the evening regular sessions.

What that meant, for example, is that on March 12 the council took two actions behind closed doors after short public notice, walked into an empty council chamber and gave a report that appears on no videotape. The public showing up for the 6 p.m. regular meeting was oblivious as to what happened.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?



It sounds to us like Stocks, Dalager and Bonds went out of their way to create public distrust and foster conditions ripe for abuse.

The right thing is to report the actions taken immediately after the closed session and to repeat the report during the regular session when someone is actually present to hear it. How difficult is that?

To Stocks' credit, after this page began inquiring into the Encinitas situation, he revised the policy: “I will now, effective today [Wednesday], be making sure [in a move to ensure “belts and suspenders” disclosure] that the city attorney also report out any special meeting activity during the 'reports' portion of the regular City Council meeting.”



This is an election year and what the threesome was unwittingly doing was handing the council minority of Teresa Barth and Maggie Houlihan a sure-fire issue. No member of the public is going to call for more secrecy in government. Neither is the media.

What last week's items were about is not the issue. But, since we've aroused your curiosity, one had to do with building heights (Leucadia Cares v. City of Encinitas) and the other with a long-running battle by an adult bookstore to stay in business (City of Encinitas v. F Street). The city apparently prevailed on a definition of building heights in a dispute with Barratt American. The adult-store dispute was sent back to trial court.

So, three council members unwisely put themselves in an untenable position. When the spotlight was turned on Encinitas' policy, Stocks adeptly changed it. Give Stocks credit for correcting the situation. Give Barth and Houlihan credit for forcing the issue.

We'll let Teresa Barth have the last word: “As I said previously, I think Encinitas should strive to do the best, not the least.”



See also: History of Consent Calendar Misuse

10 comments:

  1. What Stocks and contracted city attorney Sabine, are doing, now, is duplicitous and disingenuous. They are trying to justify the shortened, 24 hour notice, rather than mandated 72 hour, for "stand alone special closed session Council Meetings."

    We are now informed on the REGULAR AGENDA that one can speak at closed sessions, before Council goes into private chambers. Council is to report out of closed session into an OPEN MEETING.

    Other so-called "special meetings" routinely get 72-hour notice. Only closed sessions get 24 hr. notice. Legally, they are not "special" if they are held before and linked to regular council meetings, as our closed sessions traditionally are.

    However, no report was made into Council Chambers WHEN THE PUBLIC WAS PRESENT, OR KNEW WHEN TO BE PRESENT, for the last two closed sessions.

    For Jerome to now say they will hereafter offer "double reporting" at the tail end of Wednesday Council Meetings is making matters worse. Rather than giving legal notice required by the Brown Act, Stocks is doing everything short of standing on his head to justify past and ongoing bad behavior.

    Because the DA has not taken action, and folks can't afford to sue, doesn't make this lack of openness and honesty right. Time will tell. People will remember, come November, Jerome.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cute kittens, JP.

    And bad Stocks and Sabine, and Bond and Dalager. The Union Tribune got some of the facts wrong, but good piece, and I'm glad they published their editorial, and that you did, as well, JP.

    Council has been wrongly giving only 24 hour notice for closed sessions, held before regular council meetings, from the beginning. This new bit about reporting out of closed session at the very end of Council Meetings, during Council's reports on their various (paid) boards (water, sewer), is a brand new "construct," designed to deceive. The "belt and suspenders" comes in because Council is first reporting into empty Council Chambers after the closed session, which begins at 4:30, but which ends at some undisclosed, variable time.

    Stocks is setting policy without running it by the ladies, Teresa and Maggie. He'll do anything to try to turn a "sow's ear into a silk purse." What is obvious, is that he is not being transparent, as he falsely claims. As the SDUT editorial succinctly states, "What Encinitas now calls 'special,' we call 'abhorrent.'"

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  3. I don't get it. How does he keep getting away with breakng the rules and no one can seem to touch him? This is not the first time. What will it take to get he and his fellow councilmen out?

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  4. Good question, anon 9:42.

    For one thing, people paying attention, being aware of what is and has been going on will help immensely.

    Tell a friend!

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  5. Teresa is the cat's meow!

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  6. Stocks is just using Encinitas a stepping stone to bigger and dirtier politics -- he is eyeballing the Assembly and then Senate of California. Whatever he can do to ensure campaign contributions down the road by selling out at the corner he will. His agenda is just a closed as his mind.

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  7. Why don't you people get real. If Stockes is so bad, why has he gotten releceted?

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  8. out with the badMarch 25, 2008 9:28 AM

    Okay Jerome -- your success in elections is a result of MONEY, and voter apathy -- not your stellar political record. Barth's election proved that Encinitans are sick of the status quo and come November you can kiss your proverbial ass good bye.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Another thing Jerome Stocks is doing to sell out, is to try to charge Encinitas taxpayers $5 million, for EACH of the bogus railroad tunnels now in the planning stage. Leroy Bodas, senior engineer for the City, said there is no money to actually begin them, except for perhaps the one on Santa Fe. We don't want these "set in motion" to help promote Jerome's campaign, and distract from the failures of NCTD. Jerome warns NCTD is broke, and may have to suspend bus and train service on Sundays!

    City, through Jerome & friends, is now attempting to give the pedestrian tunnel projects a "negative environmental impact declaration." Notice was sent out and comments are due by April 14th, no e-mails because City typically wants a "hard signature." Please write to say, NO, we don't want to pay for these tunnels that will invite more crime, and FLOODING in Leucadia. What happens when the pumps fail in a power storm?

    NCTD can and should help pay the $20 million to underground the tracks. Check out Bill Arballo's column, "Eye on the Coast" in last Friday's Coast News, or this coming Friday's letters to the editor! Once the tunnels are in, we will NEVER, EVER get the tracks burried, as Solana Beach did, for about $20 million, the total cost of all the tunnels, or the library, for example.

    Jerome has been part of the big spending mis-management of Encinitas and NCTD, even after we voted in a bond to help pay for Mass Transit.

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  10. I totally agree. Jerome’s success in elections is a result of MONEY, and voter apathy -- not stellar political record. His record is bad for Encinitas.

    Similar to George Bush.

    Start the buzz. Jerome is terrible for Encinitas. Tell every Encinitas resident and why. Its up to the citizens to get learn before they act. I hope Encinitas has become even greener since the last elections.

    The message to residents is Jerome is fully owned by the developers and sells us out every chance he gets. He screws the public every time for the mere profit of a developer.

    ReplyDelete

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