On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council voted to sanction Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez after Councilmember Karen Rarey has accused him of a city policy violation.
The action to sanction was done in a 3-2 split vote with Rodriquez and Mayor Joel Bryant dissenting after Rarey alleged that Rodriguez shared “confidential closed session information or documentation with a third party” and presented her argument to the council while Rodriquez issued his response.
The council had the option of taking one of three actions against Rodriquez which ranged from an admonition, sanction or censure–but due to timing, a censure was not possible. Ultimately, the council opted fort he sanction.
A lot to unpack here so I’ll stick to bullets:
- Even after four meetings to discuss ethics and conduct policy to avoid the Brown Act, Rarey requested this item outside of new policy, staff has admitted they were lenient with it as she did it during a council meeting versus going to the city manager.
- Rarey says she discovered Vice Mayors writing was not same as evaluation while looking over his shoulder at his writing during a break during a council meeting.
- Rarey apparently did not like Brentwood City Attorney’s answer, which prompted her to go to another attorney for a second opinion.
- Rodriquez admits he has troubled writing and expressing himself, wife filled out city manager evaluation based on what he said to her.
- While accusing Rodriquez of sharing confidential information, Rarey reads a confidential memo from the city attorney during the council meeting—city manager Tim Ogden says he believed it was a memo from the attorney with client/attorney protection. Unclear if Council will opt to admonition, sanction or censure Rarey.
- Councilmember Jovita Mendoza claims she never reveals closed session information and within the same breath goes into closed session conversation before attorney cuts her off.
- Without providing examples or naming ethics or conduct policy violations, Mendoza accuses Rodriquez of other violations and claims resident too afraid to come forward.
- Nov 8 meeting, Mendoza likely violated the council ethics and conduct policy when she responded to a public comment and belittled a resident saying “her comprehension skills lack” which could go against council policy.
Councilmember Karen Rarey presented her allegation to the council.
“Last month, the vice mayor came on demanding it be heard why the censure was brought up that he had never done anything wrong and it was in June of last year during the evaluation of the city manager and city attorney. We receive in a confidential envelope documentation which we are to fill out, seal, once we fill it out and return it for outside attorney to view. It was during when all of them were brought together and each one of them was able to be seen during our closed session, I had noticed the handwriting on Vice Mayor Rodriquez evaluation was feminine like.
Because we were not meeting in person, we didn’t meet in person for a bit of time, when we did meet in person, he sat on the opposite side of the dais so I couldn’t see what his handwriting looked like, so it was a good six months. We took a break, I walked past his desk and I could finally see what his handwriting looked like. It was nowhere close to the handwriting that was in the packet.
I brought that to the city attorney, I had concerns that confidential information was shared with an outside party, he listened to what I had to say, at that time, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. It wasn’t until we met with Tim Davis, I think in April of the following year for the next evaluation period, that was I was able to talk to him. He did say it was a serious concern for confidential information and I think he conversed with Damien at that time and they said they would talk to the vice mayor about it.
I then got a response from Tim Davis stating that they had spoken with him. I had tried to contact him, left a message, several months before I saw Tim Davis again in Southern California in September.
All of this, I guess when he says he hasn’t done anything wrong last month. It was frustrating, because it was not a true fact. It was not a fact. Under the integrity portion that we certify. It says I refrain from sharing confidential information concerning personnel… so when it says confidential on the envelope, you don’t share that with somebody else. If so, if there is a reason, it needs to be brought to the city manager. Damian had sent something to that effect and did say it would need to good reason and you are not to share with anybody including family and friends in the email that Damian had sent out.
Note – Karen then read an email from Damian – restating not to be shared.
It says confidential for a reason. You don’t share that information with somebody else. So I am asking for sanction since we don’t have time for a censure. That is my discussion.
Mayor Joel Bryant then turned it over to Rodriquez to issue a response to the allegation.
Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez then stated the following:
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little frustrating but I understand. In regard to the censuring and councilmember Rarey just mentioned that I responded that I have done nothing wrong or nothing was brought up, I don’t remember exactly, it was last month. The reason I said that it was because councilmember Mendoza and Rarey had made allegations of concerns and possible censuring of the vice mayor it was because of a resident.
If I remember correctly, she had mentioned a resident, she didn’t mention anything in regards to this. That is the reason why I was a little bit caught off guard because when it didn’t move froward because I had heard a response I think from councilmember Rarey that there was a resident that had concerns regarding the vice mayor. So that is my reasoning for bringing that up at that meeting.
In response to Councilmember Rarey and the writing and things like that. I have been an open book for about 30-years. I know that working in the community and working with young people I have always expressed difficulties I have had times with expressing myself when it comes to writing. I know that its something I’ve always had a challenge with. I know that I struggle with that and something I try and work on.
Just so all you councilmembers know, sorry I am just frustrated with this, my wife actually assisted me in regards to working on the evaluations. The reason, I was having a hard time expressing my thoughts when it came to the city manager and the city attorney. I know that the evaluations were important and wanted to be able to express my thoughts through that. My wife took my thoughts and put then on paper for me and assisted me. It was no one else and we didn’t talk about anything in closed session. I did not think it was a violation of policy or anything like that. But the reason why my wife helped me with that was because, like I said before, I struggle. I struggle by expressing myself on paper and I wanted to make sure that I did an adequate job when it came to the evaluation of both those individuals.
Once again, like I said, I guess when councilmember Rarey brought it up that I said I did nothing wrong. Was because of her comments because of a resident that had concerns pertaining to the vice mayor which I haven’t heard anything from that.
The other thing that concerns me is that this happened in 2021 and we are barely addressing it now when technically this is my last meeting. I have a half-meeting coming up on the 13th. We waited so long to address this when we had so much time to address this. Once again, I wanted to be transparent. I am not here to violate things or break policies. If we were to look at policies and violations, ya, that would be interesting pertaining to council.
If anybody has questions, I will be more than transparent.
After several public comment both in support of council action and against, the council entered discussion.
Rarey shot back.
“First off, I didn’t look over his shoulder to look at this. We receive a copy of every councilpersons evaluation. I have got all five of their evaluations,” stated Rarey saying she never walks out of council meetings with confidential, except the documents she had in hand, to compare with Rodriquez handwriting. “It took about six-months until there was a break in the meeting, I saw it, I went straight to the city attorney. I spoke to him about it, at that time he said he didn’t feel like there was an issue.”
She then stated at that point is when she spoke to Councilmember Jovita Mendoza and several months later she spoke to Tim Davis—which is why it took 9-months.
“We have gone through four evaluations, this is the fourth evaluation and this is the first time he has needed his wife to write it for him,” stated Rarey. “Its confidential and it arrives in a confidential envelope. It is returned in a confidential envelope. Confidential doesn’t mean you share it with your wife or husband or significant other. It means it is confidential and it is not to be shared with anyone.”
She also said there were other ways he could have received help, including going to Attorney Tim Davis.
“Instead, he took confidential information and gave it to a third party,” said Rarey.
Councilmember Jovita Mendoza said she doesn’t talk about closed session or confidential information with anybody, including her husband.
“It is nobody’s business whether we are negotiating contracts, or negotiating raises for our bargaining units, talking about reviews, whatever it is, I don’t talk about it,” said Mendoza. “Trust me, people ask. I don’t talk about it.”
Mendoza stated this was just one of many things.
“One was with a resident who is too afraid to come forward and that is there choice. I am not going to force anyone to come forward. I gave them the options from Damian, they decide what to do with it,” said Mendoza. “The reason we don’t talk about things is people talk about it in the public. I was at an event and somebody came up to me and knew everything about Tim Ogden’s review. Everything! They mentioned what the mayor said, they mentioned what councilmember Meyer said, what councilmember Rarey said, the only person they didn’t mention was vice mayor Rodriquez.”
Mendoza who then was about to share what she said in a closed session was cut off by Attorney Tim Davis. Davis urged Mendoza to stick to the evaluation.
“So they got the information from him because he spoke to someone who wrote it for him,” said Mendoza.
Davis replied to Mendoza that if she was making a new allegation.
“Its not new, it’s the paperwork that was read and put out in the ether and it wasn’t supposed to,” said Mendoza.
Davis again said the allegation tonight is someone filling out the evaluation.
“I think what this does is set a tone for us going forward. All of us. Are we going to choose to follow policy or are we not,” said Mendoza. “We need to be able to trust each other so these documents that we fill out are done by the individual and are not shared with anyone. I think we need to take action so going forward this never happens again… if I do something, hold me accountable. I am good with that.”
Rodriquez stated they all have access to talk to Attorney Davis at anytime and it didn’t need to take this long to take action while noting Rarey was the one who said in her opening remarks she looked over Rodriquez shoulder to see the writing.
“One of the things I am concerned about is this is starting to become consistent, now I heard Councilmember Mendoza say again in regards to a resident having concerns and didn’t want to come forward because of fear of myself when nothing was brought to fruiting, brought to council, nothing proven. I still don’t know what they are talking about,” said Rodriquez. “It’s really getting concerning to me and frustrating to me because it looks like I might need to look at legal counsel in the future in regards to allegations that they are once again being brought up when these are things that are not even supposed to be discussed tonight. It was discussing in regards to this. I am not the kind of person who hides and runs from stuff. I am being very transparent, very honest which you guys want to do is what your going to do, but if you want to continue to make allegations that have no facts and nothing of fruition, its very disappointing.”
Davis urged the council to stay on the agenda.
Mayor Joel Bryant asked Davis in his legal opinion, if there was a violation of closed session procedure or law or regulation of this.
Davis stated there was an allegation and until everything is reviewed and investigation or mitigating circumstances or aggravated circumstances, he could not address a Brown Act Violation.
“Clearly evaluations are confidential and should not be discussed, I think that is clear,” said Davis.
Councilmember Susannah Meyer said she agreed with the timing being “unfortunate” but said the timing cannot be a part of the decision because either there was a problem or there wasn’t.
“The fact that the vice mayor is about to leave should not be part of what we decide to do other than what we decide to do other than some of our actions could not be followed through because of timing,” stated Meyer. “I’d like to mention the sacredness of closed sessions and I agree as much as I would love to tell my husband what happens after the fact, I don’t. I don’t tell anyone and that is something we have to be very careful about.”
She called a censure not appropriate based on the timing, but called it not an easy decision.
“If it were me or any other councilmember, is it specific to the vice mayor, I do believe if one of us was called out on this we would have to have a very open discussion about it because we are working on this whole transparency thing. We have been working on this as long as I have been on council. Focused on communication, focused on transparency, focused on accountability so this is a challenging discussion… but remove the timing of it and who were are talking about and talk about the occurrence and do we want to call it out as being inappropriate.”
Mendoza called it a hard discussion but did not want to move forward on a council who doesn’t follow the rules.
“You don’t want to hurt people and that is never the intent. Some people feel that is the intent. The intent is not to hurt. What I came to is the intent is to set a standard for us of what is acceptable and what is not,” said Mendoza. “I don’t like grey; I like black and white. We have to set a standard.”
Bryant read a portion of the staff report to understand what a sanction is.
Sanction: The next most severe form of action, sanctions are directed at a specific member of the Council, for a specific act (or set of actions) that is determined to be a violation of a policy, but not sufficiently serious to require censure. A sanction, unlike a censure, is not a punishment, but does permit the member accused of a violation an opportunity to provide a written or verbal response. It does not require a separate hearing.
“This goes beyond an incident and the very heart of responsibility and the sacrosanct, when council is in a closed session, its absolutely essential that we are able to completely transparent and frank with each other, express concerns, express concerns, express experiences that would give structure to our concerns so our fellow councilmembers can understand where we are coming from and why in certain things. There are things that are so very essential in the well-being of our community. Everyone of us took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and State Constitution but have also committed ourselves to making sure to the very best of our conscious and ability we make pure decisions regarding the well-being of our families and our city makes that are going to have long-standing or short-term effects of our community,” explained Bryant who said every decision they make will effect someone or many people in the community. “If we are not able to have frank discussions and protect the people or circumstances in closed session, and have certainly in one another, not just this council, but every person who sits on the council in the future, we have got to hold each other accountable. There are very few ways that as council we can hold each other accountable.”
Bryant said it does set a standard for this council to the community, but for all councils.
“I personally believe, there is no question in my mind, personally, that the vice mayor did not intent to violate any policy in this. I believe that,” stated Bryant. “I also understand the concerns.”
In his profession as a counselor, he called “integrity” and “privacy” as the foundation and was his glass house was citing he would be ineffective if he could not be across the board able to align himself with confidentiality.
“Confidentiality is the cornerstone of closed session and it has to remain so.,” said Bryant. “I don’t believe our vice mayor did something intentional whatsoever… I don’t believe not addressing this is not something in good conscious we can’t not do.”
Bryant said as a whole this wasn’t vindictive or mean spirited but wanted every councilmember protected by the same depth of protection regardless of who they are, but wants ordinances to protect everyone equality and hold each of them accountable.
Rarey then motioned to sanction the vice mayor for disclosing confidential information to a third party. The item was seconded by Mendoza.
Bryant voted against the item saying he believe sanction was not the appropriate action, and they should admonition because it would apply to all of them so he was a “no”.
Rodriquez abstained, but later changed to a “no” once it was stated by Rarey an abstention would mean a “yes vote”.
The motion passed 3-2 with Bryant and Rodriquez dissenting.
Watch the Meeting
Tuesday will be the fifth meeting in which actions by Vice Mayor Rodriquez has come up to the council.
- Sept. 13 – councilmember Jovita Mendoza called for censure of Rodriquez while attempting to make changes to the Ethics and Conduct Policy.
- Sept. 27 – Council agreed in a 5-0 vote to move forward with a future agenda item to discuss Council Ethics and Conduct Policy.
- Oct. 11 – tweaked policy to allow members who have discussed an item to bypass the Mayor and go to the city manager to place an item on the agenda—the goal was to prevent a Brown Act Violation. The council also agreed to a future community forum to discuss councils ethics and conduct policy.
- Nov. 8 – future agenda item request made by Rarey stating the allegations against Rodriquez.
- Nov. 15 – item heard.