Friday, June 09, 2006

 

About closed sessions

Several people have asked me about the Council’s closed sessions and wondered if this is where “the real decisions are made.” The quick answer is no, that is not the purpose of closed session. Let me explain. The Brown Act, also known as California’s “sunshine law,” prohibits a quorum of elected officials from discussing the public’s business in private. In Los Gatos, this means that each of us can talk to one other Council member about a subject outside of a Council meeting – but only one – because three would be a majority. The purpose of the Brown Act is to make sure that the public process is transparent and that there aren’t any old-time-politics backroom deals. Closed sessions, therefore, are confined to those subjects that require privacy: personnel matters, pending litigation, and the purchase/sale of real property. Inspiring trust and confidence in local government is a high priority for me. I want the public to understand the public process of municipal government and to believe that their elected representatives are acting as fair and impartially as we can. People need to know that we come to each Council meeting not knowing how we are going to vote on the agenda items before us. If we have a personal connection to the issue (for example, if it is a land use decision on a property close to our homes) or if we have such strong opinions that we don’t think we can be objective and unbiased, then we must recuse ourselves from the discussion. Whether we are acting in our role as legislators setting policy or making budget decisions, or in our quasi-judicial role where we are acting as judges to make a decision on a specific case, such as an appeal from the Planning Commission, our ethical standards must remain high. So, this was a long answer to a short question, but I hope it helps to clarify how the Council does its work.

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