For the third time, the Brentwood City Council has discussed amending its city council Ethics and Conduct Policy where it took two actions Tuesday.
The first, it amended its policy to allow two members who have discussed an item to be allowed to go to the city manager to place the item on the agenda—thus preventing a Brown Act Violation.
The City Council’s existing Ethics and Conduct Policy (No. 110-5, the “Policy”) requires that a Council Member alleging a City policy violation against a fellow Council Member first talk with the Mayor, Vice Mayor, or most senior Council Member (depending against whom the violation is alleged). Should a Council Member instead first talk with a different Council Member about the alleged violation, then the Brown Act precludes the Policy from being implemented as written.
City Council Members must endeavor to follow the above process when seeking to add an item regarding City policy violations on a City Council Agenda. Where a Council Member making the allegation first discussed the matter with a Council Member other than the person designated to receive such an allegation, then the Council Member may, at least a week before the next City Council meeting, ask the City Manager to place the matter on the next City Council Agenda for discussion under New Business. In that event, the City Manager will notify the Council Member against whom the allegation is made about the violation and future agenda item. Additionally, the City Manager must identify the Council Member with whom the alleging City Council Member discussed the matter, both to the accused and in any staff report provided as part of the City Council Agenda
With the adoption Tuesday, the Resolution amends the Policy to permit the discussion of alleged City policy violations by members of the City Council, when following the Policy could result in a quorum of the City Council discussing the allegation outside of a noticed meeting.
Rarey explained this item was being brought up so they could “bring to light a serious matter” and it was stopped due to a procedure error, not a city policy violation.
“When you start off going to the city attorney, sharing the information that you have that is very serious, you would expect direction is given to go to the mayor with your concern per city council rules and procedures,” explained Rarey. “When you are approached by another councilmember, who is also frustrated that they were stopped dead in their tracks after taking a very troubling concern to the city attorney, you do the only thing you think is available to you and that is for two councilmembers to request an item to be heard by the council.”
She said it was only during that request where they were informed of the procedure error.
Mendoza said the policy will get one to where they want to go but it “slow walks” the action.
“I think this policy will hold us and future councils accountable in a quicker fashion and cut to the chase and take care of any issues we are seeing because we could have taken care of this months ago. It will make it taken care of faster instead of slow walking,” said Mendoza.
This was the third time the item was before the council after Councilmemebr Jovita Mendoza publicly requested they censure Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez. She and councilmember Karen Rarey spoke about the item, thus preventing them from taking it to the mayor to place on an agenda to discuss a censure.
It is still unknown what the alleged violation Mendoza and Rarey say Rodriquez did nor is it unclear why staff told Mendoza to call the police– staff believed Mendoza’s issue was not a council, bylaw or ordinance issue, but potentially a criminal issue. The Brentwood Police Department has confirmed they have received no phone calls regarding vice mayor Rodriquez.
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The move came during Future Agenda Items where Councilmember Jovita Mendoza called on the council to review its entire policy citing some of the things were outdated.
“We talk about the Brown Act all the time and we have seen Brown Act violations and we don’t do anything about it as a body,” said Mendoza. “I would like staff to research if we can update the policy where we can hold each other accountable for Brown Act violations. If we find there is a Brown Act violation the city then forwards it to the district attorneys office. Any type of law being broken, we should be talking about that. I don’t want to sit next to someone who I think broke the law and act like nothing happened. I think we need to discuss those things and our city needs to hear if there is concerns also. If nothing happens in the end then nothing happens in the end but at least we had the discussion and we get the information out there.”
Mendoza said reviewing the policy would create a “safe place” for the council saying the policy is from 2014 and they needed a new update.
She urged the council to include Brown Act Violations, or any types of laws being broken.
“If I am being told to call the police, that is probably something we should talk about during a council meeting,” said Mendoza. “To me, that is a basic and I hope we can revamp that and modernize it.”
Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriguez said it was good they were reviewing the policies but noted historically these items have been done in ad-hoc committees.
“I think it’s a little bit biased if we as a council are going to be doing it if it’s a reflection on us or future council members,” said Rodriquez noting that is what they did in 2014 which took about 18-months to put together a policy. “I think its important we involve people who do not sit on the council to help create this.”
He called for councilmembers to be on the committee, but also have others on the committee to go through the policies.
Councilmember Susannah Meyer supported the update and revision.
“A lot of things have changed and I am not talking about just the Brown Act, but I am talking about the interpretation of conduct for example,” said Meyer who asked Mendoza what her vision of how the revisions would be made.
Mendoza stated she believed they should go through it because an ad-hoc committee would be “slow walking” the process and she was against that.
“That is what people want to do when they want to slow walk things sometimes I feel like and this is one of those cases. I think we welcome public comment like no one else has, I think we put it on the agenda and make it clear that if there is any changes you want to make in this policy bring it forward,” explained Mendoza. “We already took care of the big one which is how do we get something to the agenda, the next one is the Brown Act but we don’t hold each other accountable for the Brown Act. I just want to see us talk about it in public.”
She called this a way not to chastise people, but a way to do on the job training.
“I don’t think I need a committee, I don’t need to spend a lot of time,” said Mendoza.
Councilmember Karen Rarey asked about holding a workshop.
Mendoza liked the idea stating they could hold a one-night workshop for a couple hours and anyone could come, talk about it and go from there.
Meyer stated the workshop would be a quick vehicle to get changes implemented as long as the council came prepared for redlining the policy.
The city council directed staff to check with other cities to create best practices and things working well in other cities to bring to Brentwood—Brown Act, plus illegal activity.
The action items for staff include:
- Benchmark other cities ethic and conduct policies, include copies of the polices in a future staff report and highlight best practices
- Benchmark policies from cities that might have recently updated their policy or dealt with recent violations
- Review city council options to discuss possible violations of State & Federal Law during regular council meetings and to refer to the appropriate legal agencies
- Specially consider Council options for possible Brown Act Violations
- Once information is collected as mentioned above, hold a workshop for council and public to discuss recommended updated Council Ethics and conduct policy.
No timeline was provided of when staff will have the research and recommendations made or when a forum could potentially be held.