By the time the final jab was thrown in what can be described as a split-decision bout between the feisty Gary Cadd and the Redding City Council majority, one thing was clear: all five council members take California’s open-meeting law quite seriously.
How the Ralph M. Brown Act is interpreted, however, remains in dispute, perhaps to be resolved in a future dustup.
The council voted 4-1, with the aforementioned Cadd the lone dissenter, to accept a letter from Shasta County District Attorney Stephen Carlton. The letter states Carlton’s opinion that the majority of the council followed the Brown Act when it met in closed session on March 30. The letter says Cadd, however, violated the act when he shared information from the closed-door session with an attorney.
Cadd admits that he disclosed confidential information with Walt McNeill, the attorney who represents the now-defunct Downtown Redding Business Association (DRBA), and that he did so out of concern that the council acted illegally. (The council on March 30 went into closed session to discuss the DRBA and McNeill’s threat of a lawsuit.)
Cadd contends the council voted to disband the DRBA, while in closed session, and failed to report the action after returning to the council chambers. Such an act would be a violation of the Brown Act.
Mayor Francie Sullivan said the council discussed the DRBA, and what directions to give to city staff, but did not take a vote. “We give direction in closed session; we take action in public,” she said.
The pot got boiling at the May 5 council meeting when McNeill accused the council of violating the Brown Act by failing to report the alleged closed-door vote to disband the DRBA. McNeill said he was informed of the vote by a very credible source.
The plot thickened at the June 2 meeting when the council voted to send a letter to Carlton, asking his office to investigate a potential Brown Act violation. Carlton’s response is dated Nov. 10. “The majority of the council conscientiously abides by the Brown Act,” Carlton writes. “Mr. Cadd clearly violated the Brown Act by disclosing information from a closed meeting.”
Cadd argued that he was in the right, and exempt from any punishment, because a provision of the Brown Act allows council members to disclose closed-session information when there is concern that an illegal act has been taken. He asked that the matter be referred to the state attorney general.
“We asked the district attorney to look into whether the council violated the Brown Act, not Mr. Cadd,”
Sullivan said. “If there is a witch hunt, we did not start it,” she added in reference to a comment by Dale Ball, a Cadd supporter.
After offering up definitions of both a whistleblower and a traitor, and explaining the purpose of the Brown Act, Councilwoman Missy McArthur said she was “embarrassed” on behalf of the city and “appalled” at the idea of receiving a letter from the DA’s office accusing a fellow councilor of violating the Brown Act.
McArthur, who was absent for the March 30 closed session, questioned how there could be six people in a room (four council members, City Manager Kurt Starman and then-City Attorney Rick Duvernay) and five of them share the same view. “Sometimes we have to own it when we mess up,” she said, adding that she “wholeheartedly condemns” Cadd’s actions.
Cadd then changed tack and said he violated the Brown Act “to get something going” and spur an investigation into what he believes have been numerous closed-session violations by the council.
Reaching a consensus in closed session is tantamount to voting, he said. “The people’s right to know trumps the Brown Act,” Cadd declared.
After serving in an elected capacity for 17 years, Councilwoman Kristen Schreder said she “knows full well the difference between consensus and a vote” and that she didn’t appreciate being lectured by Cadd.
She then questioned Cadd’s standing as a whistleblower. “We did everything according to the Brown Act. We did nothing wrong. And to claim we did something wrong and then hide behind the whistleblower” defense?
“I’m not a whistleblower but I can disclose when there is perceived wrongdoing,” Cadd said. Turning to address some of his vocal supporters in the audience, he added “There was a vote in closed session—I don’t care what these folks say.”
Councilman Brent Weaver tried for a conciliatory tone and expressed a desire to move past the issue, but admitted he was troubled by the night’s discussion. It’s important that matters discussed in closed session be held in trust, he said, but he also believes Cadd “felt something was wrong, otherwise he’d be insane to take it this far.”
Asked Sullivan: How do we move forward? When a councilor chooses arbitrarily what to keep confidential, it makes it difficult for others to speak freely in closed session, she said. “If you have an issue, go to the DA or the Grand Jury,” she said, not the attorney representing “the other side of the issue—that’s not exactly fair play.”
In other action Tuesday, the council:
–Voted 5-0 to reorganize the Support Services Department in advance of next month’s retirement of Rod Dinger, the department manager who oversees airports, building maintenance, information technology, fleet maintenance, purchasing and the solid waste utility.
Those divisions are split up as follows: Public Works will absorb airports, fleet maintenance and the solid waste utility; the Community Services Department will take on building maintenance with both buildings and parks under a new Parks and Facilities Manager; Information Technology will become a standalone department; and purchasing will now fall under the Deputy City Manager’s purview.
Starman said the changes can be made without adding personnel and will save Redding $115,000 a year. To account for the added workload, Starman suggested pay raises of 5.7 percent for the public works director and 5 percent for the community services director. The council instead opted to grant those raises in four months.
–Voted unanimously to reappoint Barbara Mena-Ghidinelli and appoint Michael Allen and Charles Menoher to three-year terms on the Community Development Advisory Committee.