|(April 15, 2019, 10:25 p.m.) -- Councilman Roberto Uranga has responded to LBREPORT.com's April 12 report here titled "Mayor's Office And A Council Office Unhelpful -- Thus Far -- As Residents Seek Public Access To City Mgm't Report On Animal Shelter Prior To Publicly-Scheduled Council Study Session." We publish Councilman Uranga's response (received shortly before 6 p.m. April 15) in full below, followed by our reply.
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Councilman Uranga's Response
I am disappointed that you would come to a conclusion regarding the study session on Long Beach Animal Care Services (LBACS) scheduled for Tuesday April 16 without validating and/or verifying the information you received from a constituent. I believe that you have followed City Council proceedings long enough and often enough to know that study sessions presented by staff are not actionable agenda items and therefore, not subject to Brown Act rules that require 72 hours of notification.
The City Council and the public receive study session reports at the same time that the study session is presented; consequently, your reporting that my office is not cooperating with requests for information is inaccurate and a misstatement of the facts. I cannot forward, respond to or comment on a study session report that I have not seen up to the day it is presented such as the one to be presented tomorrow on LBACS. I can assure you that study session materials are frequently in flux up to date of their presentation and are available for review once they have become public.
In the future, I ask that you contact my office, directly, to get a better understanding of the issues involved before commenting on them on the basis of others’ perceptions. I remain available to you and when appropriate, I will comment on items when I can and will let you know when I can't.
City Council study sessions are clearly subject to the Brown Act. ("There is consensus among local agency attorneys that gatherings by a majority of legislative body members at the legislative body’s retreats, study sessions, or workshops are covered under the Brown Act. This is the case whether the retreat, study session, or workshop focuses on long-range agency planning, discussion of critical local issues, or on team building and group dynamics." [emphasis added] Source: Open & Public IV, A Guide to the Brown Act, League of CA Cities, p. 17.) The LB City Attorney's office Ethics Manual reflects this: "A 'meeting' of a board includes a gathering of at least a majority of the members (i.e., a quorum) at the same time and in the same place to hear, discuss or act on one or more matters under the jurisdiction of the board." [emphasis added.] Source: Ethics Guide for Long Beach City Officials & Employees, March 2015, p. 20]
That's why the April 16 study session IS agendized in compliance with the Brown Act. Contending otherwise simply isn't true and provides no defense to our objection to letting city management conceal material agendized for study at a Council study session.
There is no legal reason why study session materials can't be provided to both the public and to Councilmembers before a publicly agendized study session. It's a self-defeating defense to contend that because city staff hasn't provided Councilmembers with materials to study that it's OK not to provide them to taxpayers. The truth is: Councilman Uranga and the rest of his Council colleagues are 100% responsible for letting city management continue to hide study session materials from the public AND from Councilmembers (including himself.) Does he think it's flattering to the Council to show how little study they believe a subject deserves before management unveils its version of the facts and recommendations? Does he think it promotes openness and public oversight to prevent the public from studying materials in advance -- and preparing point by point responses -- that might provide information leading to conclusions and recommendations not in lockstep with management?
To claim that such materials are "frequently in flux" up to the date of their presentation is particularly unpersuasive here. The subject matter of April 16 study session has been delayed for months; it's not credible to pretend the materials aren't ready for public viewing now. In an extemporaneous February Council comment, Mayor Garcia publicly promised its discussion for March; it's now mid-April.
As a media outlet, we consider management's practice mainly defensive and manipulative; it prevents us (and others) from reporting, and the public from studying the subject being studied and preparing responses that might counter staff's version of the facts and recommendations. Unless a study session deals with an emergency or exigent circumstance, we believe it's unjustifiable for city staff to conceal materials it plans to present for study.
We decline Councilman Uranga's invitation to contact his office "to get a better understanding of the issues before commenting on them." Our story was and is accurate. We respectfully invite Councilman Uranga's office to contact the City Attorney's office regarding the Brown Act before mistakenly offering irrelevant defenses for the status quo.
In September 2018, LBREPORT.com raised the same issue about access to study session materials in the context of a "Queen Mary" study session. We recommended then, as we recommend now, a constructive reform that the Council can easily implement.
We urge Councilman Uranga, and his Council colleagues, to resist the urge to defend the status quo and instead direct city management to change its current practice. Doing so would promote openness and benefit the public as taxpayers and Councilmembers as decisionmakers.
6:35 a.m. April 16: Some LBREPORT.com reply text added/polished for clarity.
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