City's closed meeting OK'd
Covina, DA compromise on Brown Act case

Ruby Gonzales Staff Writer

COVINA - A city attorney has concluded that the city didn't violate the Brown Act when it went into closed session to approve a loan for a local business.

On Tuesday, the City Council took no action on a recommendation by staff to consider filing a claim against the District Attorney's Office to get reimbursed for the time spent by staff and on legal fees.

"We haven't sued the DA and there's no intent to sue the DA. We're having discussions with the DA to clear the matter up," said Councilman John King. "We did not violate the Brown Act. Further dialogue will show we did not violate the Act."

In response to a complaint by resident and former mayor Bob Low, the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division looked into the Dec. 20 decision by the council - acting as the Covina Redevelopment Agency - to approve the loan for Bert's Motorcycle and Watercraft Mega-Mall.

The DA said it believes the agency acted illegally when it met in closed session on the item then later voted to approve the loan. In a Jan. 20 letter, the DA said the redevelopment agency violated the Brown Act.

The Brown Act is the California Government Code that seeks to safeguard the public's right to participate in and have access to government meetings.

In a Feb. 10 letter sent to the DA's Public Integrity Division, assistant city attorney William James Priest outlined Covina's argument:

Approval of the agreement with Seidner Enterprises, which owns Bert's, was already on the agenda as an open item.

Seidner Enterprises called the redevelopment agency attorney Thomas Parrington over the weekend before the meeting seeking changes to the agreement. The agenda packet had already been posted.

The closed session, which lasted 10 to 15 minutes, was legal. The Brown Act provides for exemptions allowing it to meet in closed session for specific reasons.

The council, acting as the redevelopment agency, was in closed session to confer with Parrington whether to include or reject Seidner's proposed amendments to the agreement. It announced the decision to change the agreement in open session.

Priest said the city received a response from the DA last week.

"They continue to disagree with our office. They also requested further information with the city. Our office maintains there is no violation of the Brown Act," he said.

The DA was also told that the agenda packet for the Dec. 20 meeting wasn't available at the library beforehand, and that the city didn't provide a copy of the agreement when asked by Low.

Priest said the packet was received at the library Jan. 15. Copies were available at the City Clerk's Office and posted on the City Web site. There are also computers at the library, he said.

A library employee tried to find a copy for Low on Dec. 17, but it wasn't in its usual place.

Priest said many public officials in the county have felt the sting of one of these letters from the division even if the allegations were ultimately proven to be unfounded. The DA should review its policy in investigating such matters, he said.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, February 22, 2006

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