Fed up with City Attorney Casey Gwinn's penchant for closed-door meetings, San Diego City Councilmembers Donna Frye and Toni Atkins announced this week that they will participate in no more closed sessions until a new policy of public openness is discussed.
"It's very clear in the memo that before we attend any further closed sessions, I want this to happen," a defiant Frye told CityBeat. "Until we have a discussion I'm not doing this, because it's me, not the city attorney, who decides whether or not we meet in closed session."
The memo, issued to councilmembers Monday, has already ping-ponged through San Diego's activist community via the Internet and has opponents of the City Council's normal modus operandi-meet in private first, worry about the consequences later-rejoicing.
"What they're doing with their action is, they're taking the closed-door meetings off of automatic pilot," said consumer-fraud attorney and open-meeting advocate Michael Aguirre, whose first-place finish in last week's election makes him the odds-on favorite to become San Diego's next city attorney.
Gwinn and the future-fearing Union-Tribune have endorsed Aguirre's opponent, executive assistant city attorney Leslie Devaney, in the November run-off. The conservative daily backed ousted third-place finisher Deborah Berger in last week's March 2 primary.
Aguirre wouldn't say if he helped Frye draft the memo (she has endorsed Aguirre), but he predicted that the councilmembers' request would lead to a "drastic drop" in behind-the-scenes council gatherings that have left San Diegans in the dark about the city's financial future, various ongoing federal investigations into bond-fraud allegations and the status of the Chargers negotiations.
But from the memo, it is evident that follow-the-city-attorney will not be a game played by at least two sitting councilmembers. In the memo, Frye and Atkins insist that "closed sessions are the EXCEPTION to the open-meeting requirements in the Brown Act," the state law that strictly governs when public agencies can meet privately. Even when appropriate, they explained, "it is the mayor and City Council that must... determine whether it is in the public's best interest to hold those discussions in private."
The goal in setting a new policy, they noted, is to "ensure that we meet both the letter and the spirit of the law" and that "discussions about the basis for going into closed session should take place in open session, before we meet in closed sessions."
Atkins, who easily won re-election last week, acknowledged that she was surprised to learn while watching recent debates in the city-attorney race that the mayor and council hold the reins when it comes to closed meetings.
"For me, it's just that simple-I think we need to change the practice," Atkins told CityBeat. "Embarrassingly so, I really didn't know that the council got to set the agenda for closed session. We're going to reclaim the power that we should have had all along."
Frye said she hopes the discussion-which Mayor Dick "I Like the Dark" Murphy tersely agreed to docket for the Monday, March 15, council session-will result in a clear and positive plan the council can follow in deciding when to meet behind closed doors.
"There's nothing [in the Brown Act] that requires us just to do the minimum," Frye said. "We can go above the minimum. I want [closed sessions] docketed differently. I want notification when lawsuits are filed. I want better descriptions in the agenda. In other words, I want it explained to the public."
Asked what she planned to do instead of participating in this week's closed session, Frye responded, "Well, I have a meeting with the fire chief in the morning, so I might just stay a little longer. Maybe go for a walk."
Cheetahs never prosper
So, everyone's getting a good chuckle from the latest brush with the law that has befallen the Cheetahs Club folks. As if admissions of political corruption, racketeering and gun-running didn't draw enough attention last year, now comes word that the city attorney's office has squeezed still more from the strip club at the center of the City Hall-a-Go-Go scandal.
This week, the city announced that the Kearny Mesa strip joint had agreed to cough up $15,000 and stop its practice of parking vehicles with large advertising signs out in front of the establishment. The practice violated a city law that "specifically prohibits the parking of advertising vehicles in a location visible from the public rights-of-way," the city attorney's office explained.
The city also accused the strip club of engaging in "unfair competition" by flouting San Diego's signage laws.
Although Cheetahs didn't admit any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement (roughly the price of 750 lap dances), Diane Silva-Martinez of the city attorney's code enforcement unit boasted, "This case is an example of enforcing the city's codes and ensuring fair business practices within the city of San Diego."
Spin Cycle wondered if the same punishment awaited a supporter of Mayor Murphy's re-election campaign, who on frequent occasions leading up to last week's primary election was seen parked illegally on Mission City Parkway, overlooking Interstate 8 rush-hour traffic in a large white truck toting huge Re-Elect Murphy signs.
Silva-Martinez suggested that such a practice might be viewed similarly to bumper stickers on a car. "First Amendment, freedom of expression and all that," she said. "Now I think what you described is somebody maybe getting around the rules a little bit, but I don't know."
Well, the truck was seen in a no-parking zone. "Oh, that would take care of it," she said.
Strip-club hawkers and mayoral candidates, you have been warned.
A Ralph and Rick sword fight?
This just in from waaay-right-wing radio yapper Rick Roberts: Seems San Diego Councilmember Ralphie Inzunza, playing the scrappy Democrat, called in recently to object to Roberts' rantings about naughty words found on presidential candidate John Kerry's website (mostly from alternative-press clippings and Vietnam War notes). Roberts' minions report that Ralph dared Roberts to take the call "if he has the balls...."
The squabbling turned into an invite for Inzunza to appear "in studio" at some future date, but Roberts insisted on one ground rule: "The city councilman must stop obsessing over my private parts!"
Share your private parts: spincycle@SDcity beat.com.