During Elk Grove City Council meeting 'Three of us had a meeting at the zoo' admits Councilmember Kevin Spease

Elk Grove District 3 City Councilmember Kevin Spease discusses the official taxpayer trip he made to Houston Zoo with the mayor and another ...

Elk Grove District 3 City Councilmember Kevin Spease discusses the official taxpayer trip
he made to Houston Zoo with the mayor and another city council member. | 

During the Wednesday, November 10 meeting of the Elk Grove City Council, one member appears to have admitted to an official out-of-state taxpayer-paid meeting that included a fellow city council colleague and the Elk Grove mayor. 

The remarks were made by Elk Grove District 3 City Councilmember Kevin Spease during his administrative report to the public about council activities. As documented on social media, Spease, along with District 2 City Councilmember Pat Hume, accompanied Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen on a fact-finding trip to the Houston Zoo.

That Houston trip's highlight was a Thursday, November 3 tour of the zoo. Singh-Allen, Spease, Hume, and undisclosed Elk Grove city staff visited the facility.

Elk Grove City manager Jason Behrmann verified it was a taxpayer-paid official visit. When asked if the trip was a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the rules governing public meetings, he claimed it did not stating the trio, and presumably, city staff did not discuss the possible relocation of the Sacramento Zoo to Elk Grove during their mission.

During his report to the public, Spease acknowledged the trip (see video below) with two other council members, thus creating a quorum of the five-member city council.  

"Three of us had a meeting at the zoo, wherein we discussed the zoo and only the zoo and the future of potential in Elk Grove," Spease, the first-term representative, said. "Learned a lot about it, learned that it is something very attractive; something that I think a lot of people would want, however, there are concerns in terms of financing, in terms of making sure it is the right fit in the area, and so learned a lot from that and appreciated that opportunity." 

During their comments, Hume and Singh-Allen and Hume acknowledged the mission but were not as forthcoming as Spease. During his report to the public, Behrmann made no mention of the trip.

The Ralph M. Brown Act does not allow a quorum gathering of a legislative body without proper public notice and access, however, there are carve-out for things like conferences open to the public or ceremonies like the recent opening of Elk Grove's new park at District56. Even though it was official business, Behrmann argued the council members and mayor in no way discussed Elk Grove's zoo project and that their meeting was akin to a conference open to the public.

This trip was not publicly disclosed, and the general public was not invited to attend.

In light of Spease's public comments, Behrmann and Spease did not respond to an email question seeing if they stood by Behrmann's earlier comments that the meeting did not violate the Brown Act.

Much has been written, and many court decisions have been made about the voluminous act. The Sacramento-based law firm of Best, Best, and Kreiger wrote the following about the law: 

The central provision of the Brown Act requires that all “meetings” of a legislative body be open and public. The Brown Act definition of the term “meeting” (Section 54952.2) is a very broad definition that encompasses almost every gathering of a majority of Council members and includes:

“Any congregation of a majority of members of a legislative body at the same time and place to hear, discuss, or deliberate upon any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body or the local agency to which it pertains.” 

In plain English, this means that a meeting is any gathering of a majority of members to hear or discuss any item of city business or potential city business. 

Similarly, the law firm Hansen Bridgett wrote the following about an opinion issued by the California Attorney General a private tour conducted for city council members constituted a meeting, and thus violated the act:

The California Attorney General's Office issued an opinion concluding that a majority of the city council may not attend a private tour of the facilities of a water district that provides services to the city for the purpose of acquiring information regarding those services without violating the Ralph M. Brown Act

 Additionally, it was learned during the Wednesday meeting, another trip was made to the Fresno Zoo. At this time, details of the trip have not been disclosed. 

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Steve L said...

This meeting in Fresno (and likely Houston as well) by definition and admission are blatant violations of the Brown Act.
Question is: what are the ramifications for the breach of law, ethics, and trust?
I would certainly hope apologies and explanations are forthcoming from the city manager, mayor and council members. Will they be accountable for their actions?
If not, they need to go.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Her Majesty posted a defensive CYA statement on her Facebook page a few hours ago explicitly stating that those zoo meetings were "study missions". Maybe they can hire Jen Psaki to come in and do a full damage control!

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