“Unchecked Executive Privilege at City Hall”
Alameda Sun, January 30, 2020
By Irene Dieter
So authoritarian. An effort is underway to amend the enforcement provision of Alameda’s Sunshine Ordinance, its open-government law. The change would grant the city council the sole right to police itself when a violation occurs, unless the matter is taken to court.
Alameda’s Open Government Commission was set up as a quasi-judicial body to review cases of government overreach. It is charged with overseeing and enforcing the Sunshine Ordinance, a local version of the state’s Brown Act governing public meetings, public records, and the public’s right to know what’s going on inside government. The commission is tasked with making sure the city is adhering to the Sunshine Ordinance.
In November 2018, the Open Government Commission ruled that a city council agenda item had not been properly noticed because the council had made a decision that went beyond the scope of its public notice, noting too that the council had hastily moved forward with a second final reading of a new ordinance even though a Sunshine Ordinance complaint had been filed. The commission instructed the city to correct the original agenda notice and hear the issue again at its next city council meeting. It was the first time the Open Government Commission had exercised its authority.
A couple members of the city council said they felt slighted that another body had the authority to make any council action “null and void” until an asserted problem was rectified—a problem they did not believe existed here. The issue dragged on needlessly for months but eventually was corrected.
The city now asserts that the Sunshine Ordinance needs to be amended because a non-legislative body cannot take legislative action, even when the city council has granted the body the authority to do so. The city attorney suggests that the Open Government Commission should merely make recommendations to the city council to cure and correct alleged wrongdoing.
The proposed change would essentially give the city council executive privilege to decide itself whether it had violated the Sunshine Ordinance.
Bryan Schwartz, a civil rights attorney and chair of the Open Government Commission, strongly opposed the change at its December hearing. The Sunshine Ordinance is “a positive thing, a strong showing of democracy,” stated Schwartz. This substantive change is “an attempt to take away the teeth of the commission.” Referring to their ruling two years ago Schwartz said, “We didn’t weigh in on the merits of the underlying resolution of the council, it was strictly about process.” The commission unanimously rejected the proposed change.
At the very least, in the future, the council should suspend actions when a Sunshine Ordinance complaint is pending. A postponement, particularly of the second final reading of an ordinance, would avoid the need to declare actions null and void.
The Open Government commission meets twice a year and whenever a Sunshine Ordinance complaint has been filed. Each city councilmember appoints a volunteer commissioner, and the city council can remove commissioners at any time for any reason. Without the enforcement provision, “there is no reason for the commission,” said Schwartz.
The local enforcement provision saves people from having to take recourse in the courts, which can be costly and can drag on for months. It is a way of holding the city accountable for open government violations other than through the courts or elections.
The Open Government Commission should retain its authority to compel adherence to the Sunshine Ordinance.
On February 4, at 7:00 p.m., the city council will decide the issue at city hall.
When no other attorney would touch my case, Bryan took it on with zeal. Since then, the EEOC certified a class action and has ruled in our favor in every motion the other side has thrown at us. A five-star rating does not come close…
I was fortunate to have found Bryan Schwartz Law while searching for reputable and reliable law firms in the Oakland area that specialized in labor law, and I couldn’t be more pleased by the results they secured for my family on my father’s behalf! After…
Bryan's firm came highly recommended to deal with an employment discrimination and harassment case. Bryan and his staff were very professional, ethical, extremely organized and diligent. They are strong advocates who worked extremely hard to get me a very fair resolution to my case. I…
Bryan Schwartz is an attorney who gives good, sound advice and empowers you to believe in your convictions. I reached out to him because no other attorney wanted to assist me. Bryan has been my advocate for the last six years. He is compassionate, empathetic…
Bryan Schwartz is without a doubt a fantastic attorney. As tenacious as he is intelligent, I would absolutely recommend his services to anyone seeking justice. Not only is his legal expertise top notch, his interpersonal skills with his clients are superb as well. Working with…
Bryan and his team were highly recommended by a friend and another attorney. I reached out to Bryan when I was sick, hurting and afraid, not knowing what to expect or how to ask for help. Bryan offered to help, he and his team fought…
When I first met Bryan, and the team at Bryan Schwartz Law, I was blown away by how understanding, sympathetic, and outright dismayed they were to the unlawful situation my coworkers and I were (to say the least) uncomfortably having to endure and work through.…
Bryan Schwartz represented me successfully in mediating my age discrimination claim against a large employer....[T]here can be few lawyers with greater legal acumen or a more relentless drive to get an acceptable result for their clients. Bryan is all business and probably works too hard.…
I could never imagine having any other attorney on my side when I needed someone. This office is beyond professional and intelligent from the person answering the phone right to the attorneys. These attorneys will fight tooth and nail for you.
These guys were amazing. Just on the ball, knowledgeable and friendly as hell. I presented my case over the phone and I immediately got some preliminary feedback which was awesome. I was asked for more details which I provided via email the next day. Two…
Schedule an initial consultation to have Bryan Schwartz Law
evaluate your situation.
*Your submission of an intake request form does not guarantee that Bryan Schwartz Law will take your case or provide legal advice. You must be offered and sign a representation agreement with the firm before you will receive any legal advice.
How did we do?
Note: Your review may be shared publicly.