Did City Council Violate Brown Act?

Is the San Diego City Council conducting the public’s business without including the public?

Critics would say that is why the city is in the current state that it is in.

In the latest chapter in the battle between City Attorney Michael Aguirre and some members of the city council, 10News investigators found that an attempt to reign in the city attorney might have been done illegally.

10News investigators acquired notes and a videotape of a March 26 meeting and discovered some interesting information.

The city council agenda said budget issues would be discussed.

However, discussion shifted from dollars and cents to trying to restrict Aguirre’s power as city attorney.

“That would require the city attorney to file lawsuits only after receiving authorization on an affirmative vote from the city council,” said one member of the city council during the meeting.

In other words, the city council has to approve every civil lawsuit filed by the city attorney, but not everyone agreed.

One member said, “It might be better served for us to have a longer discussion on this rather than just today.”

It also drew a warning from an assistant city attorney.

“Obviously, this is not docketed under the Brown Act to amend and have no public comment,” said an assistant city attorney.

Council president Scott Peters chafed at the suggestion that this discussion violated California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act.

Peters said, “This is the budgeting authority of the council. We have seen how much money we have lost on cases that have been filed without even consulting us.”

10News found that nowhere on the agenda for the March 26 meeting was there any mention of cutting back the city attorney’s powers to bring lawsuits.

A motion was approved on a vote of 5-2 requiring council approval for the city auditor to pay the bills for lawsuits.

Councilwoman Donna Frye said, “It was very troubling.”

Brown Act expert Terry Francke said Frye is right to be concerned.

Francke said, “When they have a meeting, the council cannot take up matters that are not on the posted and published agenda.”

Francke also said the vote should be tossed out and the council investigated.

“Council members that voted for the motion could be subject to criminal prosecution,” said Francke.

Peters said, “It’s the business of the city council to manage the budget. The meeting was noticed as that and was perfectly appropriate.”

The two votes against the motion were cast by council members Kevin Faulconer and Frye.

In a written statement to 10News, Aguirre said the Public Integrity Unit in his office is reviewing the opinion on the Brown Act from Francke and his organization, Californians Aware.

The city attorney’s office will then decide what action, if any, to take.

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