Public isn’t given a chance to comment
By Anne Krueger
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.
EL CAJON — Criticism of the way El Cajon City Council members ran a meeting on the future of the East County Performing Arts Center has raised questions about the way the council alerts residents and allows public comment at its workshop sessions.
The March 9 meeting was moved from a fifth-floor conference room in El Cajon City Hall, where most council workshop sessions are held, to the council chambers because of the public interest in the plans for the financially ailing theater in downtown El Cajon. More than two dozen people listened to a consultant’s presentation on plans to rejuvenate the theater.
But the meeting also followed the usual procedure of council workshop sessions: It ended after an hour, even though members of the public had no chance to comment on recommendations.
After complaints from audience members, the council scheduled another meeting for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers to allow for public comments.
City Attorney Morgan Foley said the council ran out of time for comments at the March 9 meeting, and he doesn’t consider that a violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open-meeting law.
“Whether that’s a violation (of the Brown Act), I’ll let somebody else decide,” Foley said.
Terry Francke, a Sacramento
attorney who’s an expert on open-meeting laws, said the meeting did, in fact, violate the Brown Act.
“The law says that time must be allocated for people to express themselves for what is on the agenda,” Francke said. “It doesn’t say that the council feels it has run out of time.”
The city held two public meetings before the City Council session to get input on plans for the performing arts center. Ray Lutz, an El Cajon-area resident who is critical of the way the city has overseen the theater, said he was frustrated he wasn’t able to respond to the recommendations.
“A lot of people had come to make comments on their reaction to the presentation,” he said.
Council workshops typically attract much less attention than the meeting on the performing arts center. They’re held in the early afternoon before council meetings and usually consist of an hour presentation on one issue. No action is taken by the council, although their questions about the presentations provide insight into their views.
Topics range from a staff presentation on the city’s budget woes to a presentation this week from members of the San Diego
East County Economic Council, which encourages business growth in East County.
They are more informal than the City Council meetings.
Francke said there is no difference between a meeting designated as a workshop and a regular council session as long as a majority of council members are present.
“It’s an artificial construct that not only has no support in the Brown Act, but to me is a clear violation of the Brown Act,” he said.
A notice of the meetings is posted on the kiosk outside the City Council chambers. A schedule of the meetings is available on the city’s Web site, but it hasn’t been listed with the agendas for the regular council meetings. The city added a link to the advisory meetings on its council agenda Web page after questions were raised by The San Diego Union-Tribune.