Home Brentwood Brentwood City Council Seeks to Amend Policy to Circumvent Mayor in “Censure” Process

Brentwood City Council Seeks to Amend Policy to Circumvent Mayor in “Censure” Process

by ECT

At the Sept. 27 Brentwood City Council Meeting, the city council agreed in a 5-0 vote to move forward with a future agenda item to tackle a portion of its City Council Ethics and Conduct Policy.

After a call for censure on Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriguez at the Sept. 13 meeting was made by Councilmember Jovita Mendoza, she led a 40-minute discussion attempting to change the Ethics and Conduct Policy after she and Councilmember Karen Rarey had discussed a censure with each other.

It is not yet known why Mendoza is calling for the censure, however, it was shared by City Attorney Damien Brower when she approached him about Rodriquez, he told her to contact the police department—essentially, he believed this was not a council issue, a bylaw issue or an ordinance issue, but potentially a criminal issue.

Note – a public records request was placed into the Brentwood Police Department to see if any calls had been made in the past 60 days regarding Vice Mayor Rodriquez. Brentwood Police responded they have not received any calls on the vice mayor or any records of police contact.

During Tuesday’s exchange, Mendoza and Rarey argued their request was to discuss the entire policy, not just the Brown Act Violation.  At issue, the Brown Act is preventing Mendoza and Rarey from placing a censure on the agenda.

Under the Brown Act, councilmmeber A who speaks with councilmember B, neither can speak with councilmember C on an item behind closed doors–thus, preventing a serial meeting. Since Mendoza and Rarey spoke on an item in private, the Brown Act is preventing them from going to the mayor to request the censure be placed on the agenda.

According to the Brentwood City Council Ethics and Conduct Policy: “If a council member believes that another council member has violated policy, or any other applicable city policy, he or she shall notify the mayor.” (the full policy is in the staff report)

Rather than follow the policy, Mendoza and Rarey are attempting to amend the policy to allow a councilmember to the city manager to place an item on the agenda for censure versus having to go to the mayor in an effort to avoid the Brown Act.

Here is the agenda item, policy and recap of the discussion:

According to the agenda item:

Future agenda item request from Council Member Mendoza for City Council discussion of, and possible direction to staff, related to an amendment of the City Council’s Ethics and Conduct Policy (No. 110-5) to permit the discussion of alleged City policy violations by members of the City Council, when following established procedures could result in a majority of the City Council discussing the allegation outside of a noticed meeting

Note – per the policy (in the agenda) here is what is says about censure:

Censure is the most severe form of action contemplated in this policy and available to the City Council. Censure is a formal statement of the City Council officially reprimanding one of its members. It is a punitive action, which serves as a penalty imposed for wrongdoing. It may be combined with loss of committee assignments (either within the City of Brentwood or with inter-governmental agencies) or the restriction of official travel.

Censure should be used for cases in which the City Council determines the policy violation is a serious offense.

In order to protect the overriding principle of freedom of speech, the City Council shall not impose censure on any of its members for the exercise of their First Amendment rights, no matter how distasteful the expression was to the Council and the City. However, nothing here in shall be construed to prohibit the City Council from collectively condemning and expressing their strong disapproval of such remarks

Here is a copy of the policy and the process

Council Discussion Recap

During the Sept. 13 meeting, Council Member Mendoza requested a future agenda item related an amendment of the City Council’s Ethics and Conduct Policy to permit the discussion of alleged City policy violations by members of the City Council, when following established procedures could result in a majority of the City Council discussing the allegation outside of a noticed meeting

“I follow the rules, I could not talk to the mayor because I had talked to another councilperson. It wasn’t until I talked to this councilperson did we realize we both had issues of concern, that were different. They were different issues of concern regarding the same individual,” said Mendoza. “We were following the rules. We didn’t ever come with the intent of censure so the policy kind of put speed bumps in the way.”

Brentwood City Council Notice of Allegation

Mendoza explained when she called the city attorney and gave him the description, she wished he would have told her to go to the mayor.

“He didn’t, he told me to go to the police department,” said Mendoza. “We need a policy that makes this super clear so whenever we find that something is improper, that we have a clear avenue to take.”

She also asked about a “closed door” policy to address the issue in which the city attorney told her it wasn’t covered by that policy.  She stated the item was brought to the council to discuss a policy for when there is “improper behavior”—she requested they discuss the whole policy.

She added, “it wasn’t just sections of the policy”.

City Attorney Damien Brower stopped Mendoza citing the agenda was just for the one item to allow matters to be brought forward when using the established policy would be violating the Brown Act.

Mendoza disagreed stating that is not what she requested.

“That is what is on the agenda tonight,” said Brower. “That is what you are limited to talking about this evening. If you want to look at the rest of the policy we can always come back and look at that.”

“That is not what I said in the meeting. If that is what staff typed up that is what staff typed up, but that is not what I brought forward and this is not the first time what we have asked for something it has been twisted up” said Mendoza. “Damien, I want to talk about the city of Brentwood Ethics and Conduct Policy and that is what I said at the meeting.  What I said was the whole policy, I did not take out a section of it.”

Mendoza stated her agenda ask is to come back and discuss the entire policy.

“Right now Damien, I feel like we are just dragging our feet,” stated Mendoza. “I know its an uncomfortable position to be in because you are in the middle of all five of us. I know its uncomfortable for the public to listen to, but we are not talking about the instance, we are talking about the policy and then decide what to do after that.”

Brower asked if Mendoza was requesting a new future agenda item and not pursue the item before the council tonight.

“No, I don’t want a new request, I want to honor what I said that I want the next meeting which we talk about the policy,” stated Mendoza. “Which was the whole policy… I know what my intent was, I wasn’t cutting out any section.”

She stated it was the item she had called Brower about and it hadn’t risen to the level of a Brown Act at that time.

Brower stated staff viewed her request was based on the Brown Act–which was preventing her from going to the mayor to place an item on the agenda.

Mendoza disagreed stating that is not what she said at the meeting.

Brower then stated if she didn’t want to talk about this item on the agenda tonight, they could come back and talk about the entire policy. He told her its not going to happen tonight.

Mendoza then asked if she could get two councilmembers to request the item if it could go straight to the agenda.

Brower stated there are two issues. The first being the item on the agenda tonight which is regarding the policy specifically and what happens if two members talk with each other instead of going to the mayor first (which occurred here).

“You couldn’t go to the mayor because of the Brown Act Issue otherwise you would have three members talking about the issue,” said Brower. “So it was staffs understanding based on the last meeting, that was what the request to be changed so this matter could move forward. It now sounds like you want to look at the entire policy.”

Mendoza interjected accusing Brower of saying it differently than her and again asked if she got another councilmember to request this at the next council meeting to talk about reviewing the entire policy if it could go on the next agenda.

Brower said this would be treated as a future agenda item.

“This is outdated and needs to be reviewed,” said Mendoza.

Brower then stated Mendoza was moving away from what was on the agenda and discussing a future agenda item. He said it sounded like the new request was going to come back to talk about the full policy.

“I think we need to look at the whole policy,” stated Mendoza. “When you look at it, there is a lot of outdated policies that are archaic so I would want to look at everything.”

Brower explained they could share why some of the provisions are in there the way they are but that was for another night.  He confirmed the item will come back at a future date.

Councilwoman Karen Rarey stated now they have to wait and then would not come back for another two weeks.

Brower said to Rarey the council needs to explain to staff what they want to see in the policy—which would come back at the next meeting because they were not going to spend staff time and resources on anything because they didn’t know what the council wanted to see, then spend staff time and resources making changes to the policy.

“We can’t just say spend staff time and resources and update the policy without getting direction what the entire council would like to see,” said Brower.

After some more discussion about what could and could not be talked about Mendoza stated she came to Brower with an issue and she was told to talk to the police department.

“You didn’t tell me to talk to the mayor, you told me to talk to the police,” said Mendoza.

Brower cut her off stating they are not talking specifics.

Mendoza then cut him off.

“But that is the only reason this is coming up because I tried to follow the policy first before I came to anyone else and I think you should have told me if you are this concerned about this maybe you should do this,” said Mendoza.

Brower said he couldn’t respond to that question without going into the details of the issue.

“I am sorry I can’t,” said Brower.

“I don’t want you to go into the details, I want to find another avenue that doesn’t take 10-meetings to cut to the chase,” said Mendoza.

Brower then replied, “it wouldn’t take 10 meetings if the mayor was consulted.”

Mendoza again stated she believed that is what he should have told her.

Rarey then stated she agreed with Mendoza.

“There is several instances where we have come to you and the process isn’t working,” said Mendoza.

Brower shot back, “but the process doesn’t apply to those issues.”

He then asked Mendoza if she was withdrawing this request in order to look at the full policy in which she responded she wanted to handle this portion of the policy before looking at the entire policy.

“Let’s update this step if we can,” said Mendoza who used an example of her and Mayor Joel Bryant.

“There was a time when Joel and I, it was a bumpy ride so it would have been uncomfortable for me to come talk to him. So we need another avenue that is safe that feels safe and the process does not feel safe. Even with you (Brower) and Tim (Ogden) it doesn’t feel safe sometimes,” explained Mendoza. “I would rather do it in public where I know its safe where I know where I am not being coerced or moved in a direction which I feel happens sometimes so I would like to find another process. Instead of going to the mayor, if you feel comfortable, that can be your first step. If not, then you can come to council and discuss it at council if you feel there is something improper occurring. I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think we should want to hold each other accountable. Look at the city next door, people are fighting over accountability and we are trying to bring accountability to our city and I feel like I am pushed to not hold people accountable.”

Brower stated what Mendoza just described would be more appropriate to discuss in the “broader” policy and the focus here is where if two councilmembers have already talked about this and they cannot go to the mayor, vice mayor or most senior councilmember, it would then get put on the agenda—he noted the goal was to ensure no one broke the Brown Act.

“I feel like I am being pushed to do something that would make me feel uncomfortable and I feel if you are making someone feel uncomfortable you should listen to them,” said Mendoza. “I am sure its not just me.”

Again, Brower said her items she is discussing is not around the Brown Act and would be better suited for the broader policy discussion and changes she wanted to make. He said the focus tonight is since two councilmembers already talked about an item how does it get placed on an agenda.

After public comments, city council moved into discussion.

Mendoza stated that it was important that they review the policy for what is happening now and works for what residents want.

“We here it all the time, we hear they want transparency, they want to know what is happening, they were sick of closed door conversation or conversations with different applicants being closed doors. I’ve always been transparent, I always say it out in public and don’t hold anything back, so I think the two things. One, the Brown Act of me going to the mayor. Two, bringing back the full policy,” explained Mendoza.

Brower clarified since Mendoza already made her request for the full policy review, the council would not take action on that tonight and it was the Brown Act to be discussed if two councilmembers already talked to each other how to place it on an agenda.

Mendoza then asked if they could have staff look into an amendment to policy where a councilmember can go directly to the city manager to discuss it and place it on the agenda.

Brower again stated that would be part of the overall policy.

“I guess I am not understanding,” stated Mendoza.

Brower replied going to the city manager does not involve a Brown Act issue saying the councilmember would just be talking to the city manager.

Rarey explained she tried to look up the process on the website, tired to search for it to do the right thing and it wasn’t there and given to them in a packet six-years ago.

“Going to the city attorney to get advice on what to do, we are hopefully we are given direction to at least look at that packet if we have concern, look at that thing rather than saying, yeah, yeah, year,” said Rarey.

Brower then responded, “that wasn’t said and that was not the reaction I gave.”

Rarey agreed but noted Brower did not believe it rose to “that level”.

Brower again replied the policy was clear.

“It needs to be a violation of a city policy not the violation of a state law,” said Brower noting they were again moving away from the Brown Act issue. “We can have the full discussion at another time.”

“Had we been given direction to even look at this, then it would have given us the right procedure to go forward,” stated Rarey.

Brower replied, “assuming the procedure applies councilmember Rarey. We can discuss that but this is not the time to do that. The issue before the council is the Brown Act question and do you want to move forward with an amendment to the policy.”

Brower then asked if the council wanted to void the Brown Act issue and amend their policy to allow councilmembers to bring an item to the city manager to place it on the agenda.

The council then voted 5-0 to bring back the item at the next meeting for discussion and approval.

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Balfour Bob Sep 29, 2022 - 12:04 pm

Watched this debacle. Mendoza and Rarey fail to follow policy now want to blame the policy and staff? Give it a rest already. If anything, Mendoza should be censured for stating Rodriquez was facing a legal matter that the police should be contacted in public. She now has a record of trying to destroy people who disagree with her at the dais. First Dave Dolter, now Johnny Rodriquez. Shame on her.

Jim Simmons Sep 29, 2022 - 12:16 pm

Way to go Brentwood City Council, one step closer to joining the circus like Antioch

Jerry Collins Sep 29, 2022 - 12:26 pm

You should have included public comments and then Mendoza chastising Brayden Haena for having an opinion.

Karen Sep 29, 2022 - 12:38 pm

Nothing screams corrupt more than politicians bending the rules to apply to them when it fits their own agenda.

Shannon Sylvester Sep 29, 2022 - 3:06 pm

Mendoza is a loose cannon and proven bully. In all honesty, it’s she who should be censured. Not worried about Rarey, she’s out of here in a couple months and our City will be better off. Hopefully she moves to be with her son in another state. Enough of the nastiness. Good for our City Attorney for shutter her Highness down.

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