Civic San Diego boardmembers will meet tomorrow for a last-minute meeting. At the meeting, their first order of business will be adjourn the meeting.
The tactic is a way around open-government laws as a way for Civic San Diego's chair to meet in closed session with an incoming president so they can discuss labor negotiations.
Some open-government advocates say scheduling a regular-session meeting in order to have a closed-session meeting that same day violates state law.
In February of this year, Civic San Diego announced it was searching for a new president to come in after former president Jeff Graham left to become senior vice president for the Jones Lang LaSalle real estate/investment company. In the meantime, Andrew Phillips assumed the role of interim president; it is unclear whether Phillips will be offered the job.
Donna Frye, president of Californians Aware, says Civic San Diego is violating the state's open-government laws by doing so. On July 14, Frye sent a letter warning Civic San Diego of its folly.
"On its face, it appears your proposed action (to call a special meeting a regular meeting) is designed to evade the Brown Act’s ban on compensation-setting for executives at special meetings. As you should be aware, this addition to the Brown Act was passed as Assembly Bill 1344 in the wake of the City of Bell’s executive compensation scandal, and as such, it is disturbing to see Civic San Diego ignoring the legislative intent of avoiding similar manipulation of public trust and transparency."
Frye and CalAware's lead counsel, Terry Francke, believe the open/closed meeting violates Government Code sec. 54956, which states, in part, "a legislative body shall not call a special meeting regarding the salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits, of a local agency executive...”
Added Frye: "The Civic San Diego board is attempting to hold a closed session meeting to discuss the issue of compensation for the board president at this special meeting inappropriately re-baptized as a ‘regular’ meeting."
But Civic San Diego says there is nothing wrong with their plan. "The meeting on July 16th has been called and noticed as a regular meeting under the Brown Act and in accordance with Civic San Diego’s bylaws," reads a statement from an unnamed staffer.
"This regular meeting is scheduled to adjourn to the regular meeting on July 30, 2014. One item is scheduled for a closed session of the Board. This item will be a conference with labor negotiators. The purpose of the closed session is to discuss matters authorized under Government Code section 54957.6. Each of these matters may be discussed during a regular meeting of the Board."
Frye feels otherwise.
In her letter, she asks Civic San Diego to reschedule the closed-session discussions to its regularly scheduled meeting on July 16.
"One can think of no reason to formally designate a meeting outside of the regular schedule as a regular’ meeting, other than as a means to evade the strict prohibition against addressing executive compensation at special meetings, and to intentionally attract little or no public attendance."