Monday was an unusual Los Alamitos City Council meeting.
- City leaders discussed a “magic red binder” used to keep records of secret meetings.
- One councilman attempted to swear in his peers under oath and asked the council to consider a criminal investigation into the city's handling of a lucrative contract.
- Four of the five council members recused themselves on two items, and there weren't enough councilmembers present to vote on whether to pursue the criminal investigation.
At the heart of the unorthodox meeting is the controversial $24.5 million trash deal.
In a civil suit this year, a judge ruled that the council .
Since then, the divided council has fought bitterly over how to settle the suit and how much of the process should be negotiated behind closed doors or handled publicly.
As a result, every council person was accused by another councilmember of violating the Brown Act, the state’s open government law.
On Monday, a councilmember’s proposal to start an independent investigation into potential council Brown Act violations was shut down with no vote after the mayor pro tem said that there was “no issue” and no need for action.
Councilman Warren Kusumoto called for an outside review of alleged Brown Act violations regarding the city's discussion of prosecuting him.
In January, Mayor Troy Edgar, Mayor Pro Tem Marilynn Poe and Councilman Ken Stephens tried to have him prosecuted for allegedly revealing to the media what the council talked about during closed session.
Kusumoto said that he was never formally exonerated of the charges.
The council dropped the issue in March, but Kusumoto said that during discussions afterward, other council members violated the Brown Act in talking about how react to his prosecution.
Councilmember Gerri Graham-Mejia, who supported Kusumoto’s call for an independent investigation, recused herself from the discussion.
Before recusing herself, Graham-Mejia said, “I don’t think that, if we have violated the Brown act, that it should go unaddressed.”
Edgar also recused himself and said, “I don’t feel comfortable participating in a potential action against myself.
"I’m not going to be a part of the discussion.”
After Edgar and Graham-Mejia recused themselves, Kusumoto requested that remaining councilmembers, the city manager and city attorney be sworn in and he read the "swearing in" oath.
City attorney Sandra Levin responded to Kusumoto's attempt to put council members under oath, saying that she didn’t see “any precedent” for swearing councilmembers in during a routine council meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Marilynn Poe, who led the discussion on the item in Edgar’s absence, said that she always tells the truth and that the swearing-in procedure didn’t make sense.
“I guess I’m a bit mystified by this,” Poe said. “What are we are we going to be speaking the truth about?”
In the end there was no vote. Poe said that Kusumoto had publicly acknowledged in council chambers the potential Brown Act violation and as such had repaired the situation.
“I don’t think there is a Brown Act violation,” Poe said, and said she would close the discussion on the item, “being as there is no issue here."
After the Brown Act discussion, Kusumoto asked the council to decide whether to the city attorney should prosecute alleged city code violation regarding the city’s trash contract.
Stephens, Poe and Edgar recused themselves, leaving only Graham-Mejia and Kusumoto.
The city attorney said that there was not enough people to hold a discussion on the issue and the issue came to a close without a vote.
JM Ivler, 21-year los Alamitos resident, attended the meeting and said that what the majority of the council had done to Kusumoto by not exonerating him was not right.
“The sword of Damocles is still swinging over the guy’s head,” Ivler said during a 10- minute break in the meeting. “You can’t put swords over people’s heads.”
Before the discussion of the Brown Act and the alleged violations of the city code, the council debated creating a policy about their closed session meetings.
Frequently making mention of a "red binder" -- which officials say was used by a former city clerk to keep track of proceedings during closed session -- Kusumoto said that he wanted a policy in place to detail how the city catalogues closed session information.
Kusumoto said, people "look to us to create a record that we have in our red binder that will be usable by us and future councils."
Graham-Mejia supported Kusumoto’s request and said that if there’s no “history of what the council addressed and what their decision was, then the new council -- who maybe knows nothing about it -- there's no history for them to go on."
Edgar said he wouldn’t support the idea and that he felt it was just an attempt to obtain ammo against the trash contract, "to be able to gain information for political use.”
"Do we need to have a way to formerly say what our requirements are in closed session?” Edgar said. “To be able to store stuff into the magic red binder?"
"I wouldn’t support this in either the policy aspect or in having to do with the trash contract," Edgar added.
With Stephens, Edgar and Poe casting yes votes, the Council voted 3-2 not to create a formalized policy about the red binder.