Post reporter kept out of transparency meeting

Even as some Palo Alto City Council members apologized to the public for secret meetings with billionaire John Arrillaga and promised more transparency, they repeatedly struggled to follow state transparency laws during their meeting.

The transparency troubles took place Monday night during a discussion on the city’s response to a scathing report from a Santa Clara County civil grand jury, a panel of residents commissioned by the court to investigate government operations.

The report had blasted the city for keeping from the public information about Arrillaga’s offer to buy a 7.7 acre parcel of land adjacent to Foothills Park that was a deed restricted as open space and a large-scale plan for 27 University Ave. that Arrillaga proposed on behalf of landowner Stanford.

One by one, the council members apologize or tried to explain what had happened. But despite promises to do better, the meeting offered several signs that the Council is still struggling when it comes to transparency.

For one thing, the discussion started more than two hours after the 9:05 PM scheduled start time. That caused council watchdog Hurb Borock to say at the microphone, “By the way, it’s two hours after your ‘transparency’ agenda said this was supposed to be.”

Sticking to the Brown Act

As council members talked about changes they wanted to make in the response to the civil grand jury, some also began discussing changes to city policy to prevent secret meetings from taking place.

Councilman Greg Schmidt was making suggestions for rules to limit secret and closed session meetings when Councilman Larry Klein interrupted to say that the council couldn’t start creating policy because it wasn’t on the agenda. Discussing something that’s not on the agenda would be a violation of the Brown Act, Klein said.

Next, Mayor Nancy Shepherd created a subcommittee comprised of Councilman Schmid and Pat Burt and tasked them with using the councils suggestions to edit the city’s response letter to the report.

‘Serial meeting’ rule

That’s when Shepard asked if the city council members could simply send their thoughts and comments to Burt and Schmid, presumably by email, rather than continuing to discuss their critiques at the public meeting.

But City Attorney Molly Stump jumped in and told Shepherd that doing so would be a violation of the Brown act.

“The discussion needs to happen in public,” she said. If the majority of councilmembers discussed a matter with each other via email, it would constitute what’s called a “serial meeting”, which is prohibited.

Reporter kept out of meeting

When this Post reporter asked if she could attend the meeting yesterday at City Hall, the city clerk said it was not a public meeting. With only two council members in attendance, it wasn’t required to be open to the public under the Brown Act.

Burt initially said he was OK with a reporter from the Post attending the meeting, then reconsidered after talking to Stump. He said that Stump told him it wouldn’t be fair to make the meeting open without giving all members of the public the chance to attend.

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2 Replies to “Post reporter kept out of transparency meeting”

  1. I appeared at this meeting although compared to speaking for three minutes I stood there for 3 minutes in silent judgement, for dramatic effect. Not sure how it went over, although it felt like I had more attention from council than the typical address. Larry Klein I had written about how he seems to leave the dias when I speak or look down at his notes, this time was coming back — presumably from a pee break — during my silence and I called out his name – I had started my appearance by addressing the council, Mayor and vice mayor at least by their names. Meanwhile Chris Gaither, an ally, called me the next day to report that he thought I had been speaking but there was a technical difficulty. Plenty of time to speak more obviously about my contempt for this project, or these two projects and the problems the GJR highlight.

    Are these isolated cases or tip of the ice berg?

    Also, I wrote in various forms recently about the fact that Pat Burt in March, 2012 was quite intimidating to me in person, and I now characterize that behavior as bullying. Was he deliberately trying to stifle dissent or further investigation into the case? I had posted on PAW and my own site that something seemed amiss about the way Pat described the event, of Arrillaga wanting to build something (and in fact I was more right than I had known, they had been meeting in secret in violation of the Brown Act). I also have two former or current council members who back my claim in that they say Pat exhibited the same bullying type behavior to them. I posted an account like this to the Weekly (PAW) site and it was taken down. Publisher Bill Johnson said he would post an accusation against a council member and I replied that a) Sullivan v. New York Times permits such, as protected by First Amendment and b) he had meanwhile permitted and not deleted 80 other posts in the same thread for which he had not even tried to verify the identity of the posters, who all used pseudonyms. As a consequence of all this, I am most likely boycotting the Weekly’s interview process for Council candidates (I am a candidate).

    I thought you Chad might want to look into this. Would you be able to find, if you polled a few current or former Council members, that Pat Burt indeed is a bully? Is it relevant to the morass we are in, that we are secretive and non-responsive to ROI AND try to intimidate those who might ask too many questions or rock the boat? If the press don’t find traction here, maybe the Grand Jury will take it up.

    Lux et veritas, anyone?

  2. To clarify: in this account I do not mean to imply that the two council members who corroborate my claim, that I was bullied by Pat Burt, meant to say that they were bullied or intimidated in the matter of 27 Uni or the 7.7 acres. They did not say that, I did not mean to imply that.

    But I am suggesting that if the GRJ means we should all look in the mirror and figure out how to improve the Democratic process here, we, or the press or the GJ might want to look into, from an objective perspective, whether what happened to me is a factor in 27 or 7.7 or part of an ongoing problem.

    At first I wanted to object to Pat being on the ad hoc response committee, but an advisor said to wait until after I read or they write the response. Others are saying to press the issue.

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