Councilman Parks Hit With Brown Act Complaint For ‘Trashing’ Neighborhood Committee Meeting
A Brown Act complaint has been lodged against City Councilman Bernard Parks with the County District Attorney’s office’s public integrity division.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks’ generous attention to the trash issue at a recent committee meeting had some in the audience shifting and stewing impatiently in their seats. Now one of those who felt put out by the councilman’s handling of the meeting has lodged a Brown Act complaint against Parks with the County District Attorney’s office’s public integrity division.
West L.A.Neighborhood Council chair Jay Handal filed the complaint with the County District Attorney Tuesday claiming Parks ignored warnings from city attorneys that he may have been violating the Brown Act by devoting a good portion of the Sept. 28 Education and Neighborhood Committee meeting to the trash topic.
Handal says Parks turned a meeting advertised as being about community outreach into a hearing on L.A.’s heated trash franchise proposal issue, which could give exclusive trash hauling rights to a limited number of businesses. He claims the assistant city attorney he approached called the meeting a “bait and switch,” then remarked, “you know how it happens.”
David Demerjian, head of the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division, confirmed Wednesday an inquiry has been opened and that the division’s assistant head has been assigned to “determine whether a violation occurred.”
The Brown Act passed in 1953 was meant to ensure the public would be reasonably apprised of when and where public, government-run meetings are held, as well as what is to be discussed. Most government bodies require at least 24 hour notice.
Parks responded to the complaint Wednesday by calling the allegations“baseless,” and says Handal knew the meeting would be on the trash issue because he had personally called him about it prior to the meeting, adding, “I would think the city attorneys who deal with Brown Act issues everyday wouldn’t put out any illegal agendas.”
But Handal says several neighborhood council board members, all volunteers, took time out of their work schedules to report on their community outreach efforts, but instead had to sit through a “one hour 18 minute” report on the trash issue.
Handal states in his complaint, he “passed a note to [Assistant City Attorney] Carmen Hawkins advising her of the Brown Act violation. She immediately huddled with 4 others for 5 minutes, then they all returned to their seats and continued the violation.”
He also says Parks interrupted his two minute comment period, during which he accused the councilman of violating the Brown Act. He adds the public did not have access to the binders and statistics city staff were referring to during their report on the trash issue.
Attorney Terry Francke, who heads Californians Aware, public meeting watchdog organization, says current laws may not be on Handal’s side in this matter.
“The problem is that the Brown Act does not preclude, or even address, every imaginable manipulation of the rules that those seeking unfair advantage can employ,” he said.
A “brief general description” is all that’s needed for public officials to spend and “overwhelming amount of time to pitch a particular ‘briefly described’ matter, or see to it that a claque of supporters has been alerted to show up and pack the room, or refer to purportedly supportive documents not made available to the public at the meeting, much less in advance. If the presiding officer does not show a strong enough hand to prevent his or her meeting from being hijacked, there's no legal redress for that weakness or bias—only a political one.”
Francke adds members of the public can write tougher policies and try to “convince their local bodies to adopt them,” or else “take to the streets to get them on the ballot for the community to vote on.”
Handal told CivicLA he thinks Parks who is in the minority among city council members for his opposition to the trash-pick-up proposal used the committee meeting to further his own agenda. He claims three months ago he got a call from Parks wanting to discuss rounding up opposition to the trash proposal from neighborhood councils in the city. Handal says he actually agrees with Parks on the trash issue, as do several neighborhood councils that have passed resolutions opposing the proposal, but says the way he handled the meeting was disingenuous.
“Like neighborhood councils, Mr. Parks has been compartmentalized from his fellow councilmembers,” said Handal.
Meanwhile, Parks has done little to hide his dissatisfaction in the decade-old neighborhood council system. “If you’re ten years old you’re pretty well run out of potential... you should be a well-functioning organization after ten years of history,” and dismissed claims by neighborhood councils that they are not informed of important city matters.
“If they’re interested in dealing with city, they cannot expect things served on platter,” he said, adding that people not on neighborhood councils also stay abreast of city affairs without ever getting paid.
Parks contends the Sept. 28 meeting was indeed held to further outreach, and that they “zeroed in” on the trash issue as something neighborhood councils should be getting engaging the community on. “Of the 95 neighborhood councils, only one neighborhood council took the time to write letters to put their position on the trash issue on the record,” he said, referring to Mar Vista’s community impact statement.
During the Sept. 28 meeting, Parks noted the trash issue is just as important as the marijuana ban issue that seems to be taking up much of the council’s time.
In the weeks folllowing the meeting, Parks and Handal have exchanged barbs on the CitywatchLA website. In a counter to Handal’s own piece in CitywatchLA on the alleged Brown Act violations, Parks wrote a piece for the same publication entitled ‘You Want the Truth? Jay Can’t ‘Handal’ the Truth!” Parks wrote that Handal was “wrong on so many points” and that “from his statements, it was clear that [Handal] had either not read my motion or the agenda item.”
“He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else he’s not,” Parks told CivicLA, but added later, that despite their differences, “Handal’s a great guy.”
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This article originally appeared in CivicLA.
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