With ongoing zoo negotiations and secret meetings the Elk Grove mayor, her council members are tainting their dealings

Since its announcement this fall, there has been considerable interest in the possible relocation of the Sacramento Zoo to a large, undeveloped site in Elk Grove. It has made headline news, and already three members of the Elk Grove City Council, Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen, and her two councilmembers, Pat Hume and Kevin Spease have traveled on official business to the Houston Zoo.

It's that trip to Houston that has generated curiosity about its legality under the Ralph M. Brown Act, the laws governing official government meetings in California. The law, among many things, says a meeting of a majority of a governing body conducting business is illegal unless the public is notified. 

The November trip was not publicly notified and only discovered when Singh-Allen posted a picture of her and her two council members at the Houston Zoo. Upon discovery of the 1,609 nautical mile journey, inquiries to Elk Grove city manager Jason Behrmann confirmed all three were conducting city business but in no way were discussing zoo negotiations. 

Even though three members convened without public notification, at the time of the initial contact with Behrmann, he claimed the trip was allowed by the Brown Act because it was akin to attending a conference and could be concealed from the public view. Also, Behrmann argued even though the city is in a six-month negotiation period with Sacramento Zoo officials and the three elected officials were traveling on city business, in no way were they discussing anything to do with the possible zoo.  

During the November 11 Elk Grove City Council meeting, Spease said the following about their trip to Houston:

"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. 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." 

The fact that Spease acknowledged they discussed financing (see video below) verified he, Hume, and Singh-Allen were discussing how it would affect Elk Grove taxpayers. Additionally, the phrase "in terms of making sure it is the right fit in the area," which is a 60-acre parcel in the Southeast Policy Area, confirms they discussed land use - a discussion which must be held in a public meeting.

As a follow-up, Behrman was asked on November 19 which section of the Brown Act exempted the meeting from public notification. Behrman handed the inquiry off to city attorney Jonathan Hobbs who wrote the following legal opinion:

Your below email was forwarded to me by the City Manager.  Under the Brown Act, a “meeting” of a legislative body does not occur unless a majority of the members of legislative body congregate at the same time and location to hear, discuss, deliberate, or take action on an item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.  Even if a majority of members of a legislative body were to gather at the same time and location, it is categorically not a “meeting” under the Brown Act if the members do not discuss among themselves business of a specific nature within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.  (Gov. Code § 54952.2(a), (b), (c)(1)(5).) 

Based on Spease's admission during the November 10 city council meeting, Hobbs is telling taxpayers "don't believe what you saw and heard from the council member."    

By any reasonable measure, to believe the mayor and her two city council subordinates traveled to an out-of-state zoo and did not discuss Elk Grove's deal simply defies logic. This twisted logic is the story Behrman and Hobbs are standing by, notwithstanding Spease's admission.

The zoo could be a welcome addition to the city if, to paraphrase, former Councilmember Steve Detrick's often spoken but rarely followed mantra if it is cost-neutral to taxpayers. If the mayor and city council and their enablers occupying the city manager and attorney's office are openly flaunting the public interest, who knows what sweetheart side deals, land, and otherwise, Mayor Singh-Allen and her four subordinate city council members are conjuring through illegal meetings happening beyond public scrutiny to put it to Elk Grove taxpayers?    


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Renegade said...

EGN is correct that it "defies Logic" that the three councilmembers flew to Houston on city funds with the express purpose to tour the zoo, but didn't talk about the zoo at any time during their visit. Councilman Spease's admission on the record was clear and concise. They did talk about the zoo, the need, the want, the financing, etc. This was clearly a Brown Act violation as defined with the assistance of the city attorney who provided the codified Government Code section above.
The three councilmembers need to explain themselves and take accountability. Failure to do so, tells the public that council cannot and should not be trusted.

Steve L said...

Truth and ethics need to be adhered to in this situation. It seems blatantly obvious the Brown Act was violated here. Our elected need to be truthful about what happened. If ethics continue to be ignored in our government then democracy is doomed. The burden for such a malfeasance will likely be light, but the damage done to democracy and truth may be irreparable. If our elected truly care about the community over self they will come clean. If they don’t they should be removed in shame. We will never be able to trust them.

Gregory Jones said...

Subordinates? Do all the council members know that?

And here I thought "Mayor" was ceremonial figurehead for events and gavel-wielding director of meetings. had no idea that there was a major power/ authority restructuring involved.

Please provide us with a local Civics lesson to explain this to us mere mortals.

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

The city is skating on this late winter ice with the claims the trips to Texas were not meetings. However, there is a way Ms. Singh-Allen could deal with this situation - issue a non-apology apology.

If Ms. Singh-Allen chose to, she could say they did not discuss the city's venture with the Sacramento Zoo while in Houston, but that she understood the appearance could lead to that conclusion. Then she could promise in the future to error on the side of caution and not conduct official business in the same manner.

It would go a long way, but as Ms. Singh-Allen demonstrated in her interactions with the Hmong community during last year's election, she is unwilling to give an inch and show any measure of humility or contrition.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

When was the last time the City Council acknowledged during the public hearing that someone's precious three minute comment swayed how they ultimately voted?

For the Elk Grove zoo, I envision a taxpayer gift of land; a revenue bond for construction; and Mello-Roos (and a small slice of zoo foundation funds) to cover annual operations and maintenance as a City park facility. But most of all, can you imagine the bragging rights the City Council will enjoy!

By the time the zoo comes around to public hearing, the peanuts will have already been ordered for the elephants!

Eye on Elk Grove said...

"The cost of moving the zoo has ranged from a conservative $83 million in some reports to $129.1 million or higher for the full build-out, according to the most recent feasibility study." Oct 1, 2021 (Sacramento Bee)

What was promised when the three were talking financing in Texas? Did they negotiate for an oil well while they there? Because, good luck getting a sales tax increase.

Either that, or anyone buying a new house in the SEPA better opt out of flood insurance because their Mello Roos taxes are going to be the highest in the city; maybe even more than their mortgages. But not too worry, the homeowners will get discounted passes to Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen Zoo.

But there is some untapped revenue source the Council has refused to consider that the county of Sacramento is making mega bucks revenue on . . . Grow Elk Grove!

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