Members of the Los Alamitos City Council declared a “cease-fire” against one another Tuesday night after lobbing allegations of ethical and procedural lapses across the dais.
In a meeting that continued past midnight, the Council debated whether members violated the Brown Act, a California law that forces city leaders to conduct city business in public meetings to protect the community from backroom deals but also allows them to have confidential discussions on legal matters during closed session meetings.
On Tuesday, long battling factions on the council accused one another of committing Brown Act violations and of overlooking some violations for political advantage while pursuing others for political retribution. In the end, the council moved to back off dueling Brown Act violation charges in a bid for political civility.
“Nobody is right in this. We are all wrong,” said Mayor Troy Edgar. “I think what we need to do is declare a cease-fire.”
Mayor Pro Tem Marilynn Poe agreed.
“I am tired of all of this. I don’t look forward to coming to the meetings because it’s just ‘Who’s going to come at me again?’ And it’s not fun,” she said. “I think that this is all foolish, and I think we have totally lost sight, and it all started with the trash contract.”
Last year, residents and supporters of City Council voting minority Warren Kusumoto and Gerri Graham-Mejia sued the city alleging the council violated it’s own code by not awarding the $24.5 million trash contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The suit further accused Edgar, Poe and Councilman Kenneth Stephens of corruption. A judge ruled that the contract was invalid but threw out the allegations of corruption. Both issues are currently under appeal.
In December, Kusumoto recused himself from closed session City Council meetings about the city’s decision to appeal the ruling. He wrote a public letter, noting that the council majority consistently overruled his viewpoint. The council majority followed up in January by voting to have Kusumoto prosecuted by the district attorney and attorney general for violating the Brown Act in allegedly leaking closed session discussions.
At every Council meeting since then, residents and Council members have accused each other of additional Brown Act violations, including one charge that the mayor disclosed confidential information in the course of accusing Kusumoto of a Brown Act violation.
On Tuesday, Kusumoto and Graham-Mejia accused the Council majority of using a double standard in prosecuting Brown Act violations. They further accused City Attorney Sandra Levin of summarily dismissing their concerns about Brown Act violations simply because they are in t he council voting minority.
Levin was quick to admit her frustration with the back and forth allegations. “I absolutely hate being in the middle of all these things,” she said.
Instead of voting on the latest Brown Act violations Tuesday, the council opted to reconsider their decision to refer Kusumoto for prosecution at an upcoming council meeting.
Graham-Mejia said she appreciated Edgar’s attempt at a cease-fire.
“We have all been abused,” she said. “I just wish we hadn’t had to have Warren publicly humiliated…”
Kusumoto expressed mixed feelings about the entire process. Noting the “zeal” with which the council members voted last month to prosecute him for a Brown Act violation, he called it disingenuous that the council majority would be quick to back off the cause after some of them were accused of also violating the Brown Act.
“I am ready to turn myself in,” he said. .”I am going to be found innocent of all these allegations…”
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS
Do you think the council did the right thing in declaring a cease-fire and moving to drop Brown Act violation investigations? Do you think city leaders are playing politics with the open-government law?