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Civic San Diego rankles Frye

Former councilmember says agency is preparing to run afoul of Brown Act

Donna Frye keeps a close eye on the Civic San Diego board
Donna Frye keeps a close eye on the Civic San Diego board

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."

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Donna Frye keeps a close eye on the Civic San Diego board
Donna Frye keeps a close eye on the Civic San Diego board

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."

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Terry Francke had this to say about the meeting:

**"...This is just a way to schedule a last minute closed session meeting, and more pointedly, it’s a way to rush a highly desired hire into effect without having to wait for another two weeks until the next regular meeting, which the Brown Act says is where discussions of executive compensation must be confined. So in order to achieve this end, what is in fact a special meeting (because it falls outside the adopted regular meeting schedule) is re-labeled a regular meeting, “adjourning to” the next real regular meeting on the 30th.

Meetings aren’t “adjourned to” later meetings in advance. Adjournment to a later time or date is an act of the body from within a meeting. As Government Code Section 54955 puts it, "The legislative body of a local agency may adjourn any regular, adjourned regular, special or adjourned special meeting to a time and place specified in the order of adjournment.” Adjournment is done by the body through an order of adjournment.

Also, regular meetings aren’t “called and noticed” by the board; that’s the language describing how special meetings are authorized. Regular meetings are simply conducted pursuant to a previously and formally adopted schedule, and if a meeting isn’t on that schedule it is, as a matter of law, what the Brown Act designates as a special meeting.

This board has so contorted the logic and procedure of the Brown Act it’s like an advanced stage of the party game Twister. The former crowd at Bell City Hall would have applauded."**

July 15, 2014

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