(April 19, 2004) -- It probably won't make Oprah's Book Club or the best seller list on Amazon.com, but it's a good read...and it's free.
It's the Handbook for Long Beach City Officials, Employees and Commission Members, a highly readable reference work produced by the LB City Attorney's office. The 25 page work is also extremely useful for LB neighborhood groups, community organizations and activists...and can be downloaded from City Hall's web site (page link below).
In clear, simple English, the Handbook spells out the essence of salient laws on Ethics, Conflicts of Interests, Financial Disclosure, Accepting Gifts, Political Activities, Post-City Service Restrictions and Open Meeting Laws.
Ignorance of the law is never an excuse...and the Handbook makes any remaining ignorance inexcusable. The Handbook is agendized for delivery to the City Council by the City Attorney's office on April 20.
City Attorney Bob Shannon notes in the Handbook's introduction that it describes the rules "in general" and "[t]he law in this area is sometimes complex and legal advice is always dependent on the specific facts of a given situation."
[LBReport.com comment: Even with that legitimate caveat we believe there's real public benefit in presenting the rules clearly as the Handbook does. Kudos on this well done work.]
Here's a direct link to download the Handbook...but be aware it's roughly 2.3 MB and will take a few minutes via modem. And here's a tip: RIGHT CLICK on the following hyperlink, choose "save target as" and save the file to your hard drive. (This should be faster than left clicking the link which opens the document.):
Right click on this to begin download.
LBReport.com comment: To test the comprehension of Councilmembers and the Mayor on the Handbook, we offer the following pop quiz:
Question 1: One week before the City of X is scheduled to hold an election, a daily print newspaper recommends that voters remove incumbent Councilmembers seeking reelection. The Mayor of the City of X responds by sending a letter for publication to the print newspaper, using her City Hall taxpayer-paid office facilities to disseminate the letter arguing against changing Councilmembers. The Handbook states:
You may not:
- use or authorize the use of City offices, stationery, telephones, vehicles, equipment or any other City property for any campaign activity...
Question 2: The Handbook section on the Brown Act (CA open meetings law) states in pertinent part:
"Meetings of the City Council and nearly all of the City' s boards, commissions and committees are subject to extensive regulations known as the Brown Act (the "Act") which are designed to ensure that all deliberations and decisions of City agencies take place in public. It is important for City councilmembers and board members to understand these requirements, because a violation may either void the proposed action or subject the board members to criminal liability...It is a misdemeanor for a member of a board to attend a meeting at which action is taken in violation of the Brown Act, if the member intends to deprive the public of information to which the member knows (or has reason to know) the public is entitled. Violations of the Act may also result in the issuance of injunctions and writs of mandate to correct violations, prevent future violations, or void actions taken by a board in violation of the Act...The Act prohibits the use of direct or indirect communications
intermediaries or technical devices used by a majority of a board to assist them in arriving at any decision, which is called a 'serial meeting.' For instance, the Chair may not call two other members of a five member board to discuss an agenda item. Nor may one member contact a second member, who then calls a third member. The same is true for the use of forwarded
mails, blanket faxes and the like for communication among a majority of members..."
In the City of X, after the elected City Council votes nearly unanimously to change city law concerning procedures at its publicly owned Airport, the public learns that city officials, including several members of the City Council, met with or held discussions with representatives of an air carrier concerning changing the city law in a way that would suit that air carrier. During public proceedings on changing the city law, no city official tells the public about the meetings and discussions, and within days of the Council vote the airline takes all available airport flight slots.
Assume for purposes of this question that a majority of Councilmembers took part in these discussions either together or in series. Discuss the Councilmembers' conduct.
Question 3: City Hall's City Auditor, a position with no independent city legislative authority, gives written confirmation to a then-prospective lender for a firm that operates a major city asset and pays rent to the city, concerning allowing millions of dollars in rent credits. There is no public record of the City Auditor obtaining such authority from the elected City Council either in a publicly agendized voted Council action or in any validly conducted agendized closed session. Discuss.