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LOCAL News :: Government & Elections

Asking Mayor Rotkin to Follow the State Open Meetings Law

On March 16, I filed a Brown Act demand with Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin asking him to rehear three agenda items and rectify his Oral Communications and public comment procedures.
309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
March 15, 2005

Mayor Mike Rotkin
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Dear Mayor Rotkin,

I formally request that you correct the Brown Act violations that occurred at the March 8, 2005 City Council meeting during the Afternoon Session.

Specifically, items ##1,10, and 12---which I had removed from the Consent Agenda for discussion--were made the subject of a novel ‚Äúnew policy‚Ä?, which you announced you were starting. Instead of allowing the public to address items one by one that were pulled from the Consent Agenda for Council consideration (which would have allowed a normal public comment time of three minutes per item), you required me to address all three items as a block within a five minute period, prior to any other Council action or public comment on the items.

You made this ‚Äúnew policy‚Ä? decision after you had examined the green cards indicating which members of the public wanted items pulled. I was the only person to turn in a card.

You also announced this decision in an exasperated tone after I had stepped up to microphone to ask to comment briefly on the Depot Park opening presentation made by another member of the public.

In prior meetings public comment after such ‚Äúpresentations‚Ä? had been regularly allowed. For instance, on February 8th, I and others made brief public comment on the Karen Delaney Human Care Alliance report, which was also a ‚Äúpresentation‚Ä?. It, like the Depot Park presentation at this meeting, was also not a numbered agenda item, but an announced ‚Äúpresentation‚Ä?.

Was this ‚Äúno public commentary allowed on presentations‚Ä? a second ‚Äúnew policy‚Ä? which you created, once you saw who was approaching the microphone to speak? It certainly gave that appearance.

Both of your abrupt and unilateral ‚Äúpolicy change‚Ä? decisions appeared to be ad hoc and penalized speakers you were historically in disagreement with. It forced them to address a variety of subjects in rapid succession. For my part it made comment on the first item rushed, and on the second two impossible. It was also an abrupt, arbitrary, and unnecessary change from the process adopted at previous meetings for taking public comment on consent items.

Since only three items were involved and only two of us wanted to speak, the excuse that there were ‚Äútime problems‚Ä? seemed to have little merit. In addition, you actually had a wealth of time--so little business on the agenda that you had canceled the evening session. (And in so doing, created a problem with Oral Communications--as described below).

It seemed likely that this new ad hoc procedure was content based and done to limit the comment of particular individuals that the Council did not want to hear from, since it was announced after you saw who intended to speak.

The notion that the public process can be distorted to disadvantage disfavored speakers is a violation of 54954(c) of the Ralph M. Brown Act in the Government Code. That section reads: ‚ÄúThe legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body‚Ķ‚Ä?

You also moved the 7 PM Oral Communications time to an indefinite time somewhere towards the end of the afternoon session. The audio tape and the City Clerk both confirmed that Rotkin stated Oral Communications would be ‚Äúat 5:30 PM or after item #26, whichever comes first.‚Ä? This severely disadvantaged prospective speakers since it required them to sit through 2 ¬Ĺ hours of the afternoon agenda and keep constant tabs on what was being discussed to be assured of a chance to speak.

However, even those who sat through the entire meeting would have found that you violated your promise to the public. When 5:30 PM came, you didn‚Äėt stop for Oral Communications. You then continued for another hour until item # 26 had been completed.

Anyone arriving at 5:30 PM would have been out of luck, unless they chose to interrupt the meeting. You made no opportunity for Oral Communications at 5:30 PM whatsoever, nor did you announce it was being postponed. Members of the public there at the appointed time would not have even been aware there was any opportunity for Oral Communications whatsoever. I believe you owe the public an apology for this error and some assurance it will not happen again.

This elimination of access to Oral Communications violated Section 5.4954.3(a) which provides ‚ÄúEvery agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before ordering the legislative body's consideration of the item‚Ķ‚Ä?

I request that these Brown Act violations be cured or corrected within 30 days by rehearing items ##1, 10, and 12 with adequate notice and adequate time for public input at a time certain.

I also request you restore Oral Communications to its usual time where it can be regularly and conveniently accessed by the public. This would avoid the kind of problem that arose at the March 8th Council meeting when Oral Communications was, for all intents and purposes, eliminated (other than for those who happened to be around at 6:35 p.m.).

The effective removal of Oral Communications may not mean much to you, but it is significant for members of the public who are not given the unlimited speaking time which you and your fellow Council members grant yourselves.

Further I request you clarify and announce your procedures for handling public comment on Consent Agenda items prior to the meeting at the time you announce the agenda 72 hours prior. This will avoid both the substance and appearance of partiality that came at the March 8th meeting and prior meetings when the Mayor sees who is speaking and then suddenly announces new procedures on speaking times.

If you refuse to correct the Brown Act violations mentioned above, please clarify in writing how the peculiar placement of Oral Communications and the cramming of public comment on several items into one comment period actually comports with the Brown Act’s provisions.

Robert Norse (831-423-4833)

Cc: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz Metro, Grand Jury, D.A. Bob Lee, San Jose Mercury News, Terry Franke, First Amendment Foundation, Good Times, Mid-County Post, City on a Hill Press

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Confused and Annoyed

Can you imagine, that you took time out of your busy schedule, time off work, and came down to a City Council meeting to address the council as the Brown Act provides, during the public comment period for every item on the agenda, and the Chairperson of the meeting told you, that you had to bundle all your comments for several items into a single expression, of a an arbitrarily picked time period, with no advance notice, and in a way that was not done to any previous speaker?

That is what I witnessed.

What is Rotkin doing? I thought he was the "old hand" and knows how to run a meeting AND stay within the guidelines of the Brown Act. In fact, I would say he DOES know what he is doing, and is cocky enough to think he can get away with it.

Re: Asking Mayor Rotkin to Follow the State Open Meetings Law

Robert how many times now have you caught council members in Brown Act violations, and what is the rough statistical breakdown of the end result of your making and pursuing these complaints?

No Clear Court Victories But Pressure on City Council

The main purpose of making the complaints is to educate the public and pressure the Council. None of the complaints, as Brown Act complaints, have been taken formally into an active lawsuit status.

I have probably filed more than a dozen letters to the City Council detailing separate clusters of Brown Act violations over the years.

None of these has gone to court--since the costs in time and/or money have been, for me, prohibitive.

There is one active lawsuit going in federal court (the "Heil Krohn!" case--see "Santa Cruz City Council Will Face Trial in mock-Nazi salute case" also posted on this indymedia site).

That lawsuit will be amended with additional complaints, based on the various Brown Act and First Amendment violations that have happened over the years (such as former Mayor Kennedy's arrest of me in January 2004 in the middle of a homeless demonstration).

However, I have won one lawsuit against the City, the SCPD, and a private merchant in collusion with them in the "Sushi Now!" case (involving a false arrest where I was circulating a petition asking for a boycott of the businesses that moved to fence off the area in front of New Leaf Market).

The City has also gotten more nervous about Brown Act violation complaint letters from me. They're actually replying to them now, instead of ignoring them. The replies are denials, but I believe the impact of these complaints is to require the Council to be more cautious in its "public be damned" process.

A number of those past Brown Act complaints can be found on indymedia.

Unfortunately apparently the indymedia software is screwy on dealing with archives, so many of the past stories are inaccessible and lead to "never submitted past the preview stage" morgue files.

(A word to the wise: save any stories you post or value that are on indymedia--they may not remain there for any length of time)

My postings last about 20 minutes!!

Those flush-happy SC IMC monitors, tirelessly deleting to promote peace and justice!!

Re: No Clear Court Victories But Pressure on City Council by Robert Nors

Robert wrote:

"Unfortunately apparently the indymedia software is screwy on dealing with archives, so many of the past stories are inaccessible and lead to "never submitted past the preview stage" morgue files."

Hopefully this problem should be fixed in the near future; however, growing sites are often in a state of flux. Thanks for your patience.

"(A word to the wise: save any stories you post or value that are on indymedia--they may not remain there for any length of time)"

Thanks for the tip. Writers should always save copies of stories. That's common sense. As for the problem with finding things in the archives, this is a software problem and not a conspiracy, despite Becky apparently wishing it were so. For now, you may have better luck searching for your articles with Google or another search engine.


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