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Burbank to press state on law barring non-officials from closed session meetings

April 05, 2013|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene@tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Burbank plans to press state officials on laws that prevent newly elected candidates from attending City Council closed sessions in the lead-up to them taking office, arguing the ban forces a steep learning curve that can hinder city business.

The City Council on Tuesday decided to reach out to the California attorney general for insight on the practice, and to lobby legislators for a remedy that would allow council-elects to observe closed meetings and be protected by attorney-client privilege.

The move comes roughly a month after City Atty. Amy Albano said newly elected Bob Frutos, who will be sworn in May 1, could not attend closed-session meetings in the interim because it would violate provisions of the Brown Act, which limits attendees to those with an official role, not interested members of the public.

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For years, Burbank has allowed council members-elect to sit in on closed-door meetings prior to being sworn in. During such meetings, the council may discuss pending litigation, performance evaluations or labor negotiations. In 2001, the City Council even amended the municipal code to allow the practice, “unless such attendance is affected by another provision of law.”

Albano said it was, pointing to the Brown Act.

But some residents argued that Frutos was more than an “interested member” of the public.

“That may be the case, but they’re not an official of the city,” Albano said, of council members-elect. “They would not have any official role in a closed session.”

Plus, she added, allowing council members-elect behind closed doors before being sworn in would destroy attorney-client privilege, leaving the information discussed potentially unprotected.

“This is not personal,” Albano said.

Even so, the council agreed that the practice would be beneficial to the city.

“It could take quite a while to get up to speed if there’s a fair amount of things going on,” said Mayor Dave Golonski.

The council voted unanimously to ask the state attorney general for her interpretation of the law, while also suggesting a legislative remedy for the issue.

“We lose something by not having the person come,” said Councilman David Gordon.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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