Mayor Liccardo, City Council Repeatedly Violated Brown Act

San Jose's mayor and City Council members flouted state open meeting laws at least three times this year, according to city officials.

Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilwoman Rose Herrera violated the Brown Act by engaging in policy discussions about rent control, taxi regulations and a state minimum wage bill outside of public meetings.

Both acknowledged the violations in a Mercury News report, which has raised concerns about back room deals at City Hall.

"In each case, we were the ones who outed ourselves, we policed ourselves," Liccardo told San Jose Inside, adding that the mistakes were unintentional. "Nothing was delayed in either case."

Liccardo said his staffers caught the errors after realizing that drafts of certain Rules and Open Government Committee memos being circulated by email had amassed more signatures than allowed in the Brown Act.

Because the Rules Committee is made up of five members, no more than two of them can discuss anything in advance of the meeting without breaking the law. The Brown Act prevents back room deals by making it illegal for the majority of an elected body to talk about policy matters in private.

"In each case, we identified that there were more signatures on the memo than were allowed in the Brown Act," Liccardo said. "We talked to the city attorney and then we assured that the committee would not make a decision on that matter so that there would be no concern or allegation that anything untoward would take place."

Nothing got delayed, Liccardo added. Rather, the items about taxi rules, rent control and a state minimum wage hike bypassed the Rules Committee and went straight to the council for discussion.

Still, the violations could undermine public trust and mar the reputation of a city that has tried to usher in greater transparency after a bribery scandal put San Jose in the national spotlight. Former Mayor Ron Gonzales came under scrutiny when prosecutors accused him of brokering a secret deal as political payback with a trash-hauling company in 2000. A judge eventually dropped the charges.

A Vietnamese-American neighborhood group accused the city of breaking Brown Act rules in a lawsuit filed in 2007. The case awaits new trial date after an appellate judge overturned a Santa Clara County Superior Court ruling in favor of the city.

Liccardo said the city will take precautions to prevent future missteps. More than three would indicate a pattern or lack of discipline and possibly warrant an investigation, city officials said.

"We take responsibility," he said. "We made a mistake in how those memos were circulated. We're rethinking the process now. We'll make sure that this doesn't happen going forward."

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

15 Comments

  1. With watch dogs like the MN and SJI, the only wrongdoing at City Hall that we’ll hear about is going to have to be self-reported.

  2. Hear, Hear!!! I find it ironic that two politicians who are NOT NEW to the City Council are behaving as though the Brown Act is brand new to them. Makes one wonder what they have been doing all these years and what other laws they are “unaware” of. But hey, look at the shining examples they have had with the last two mayors and various other politicians in our midst. Not to mention the lack of interest by the district attorney’s office and the state attorney general’s office, etc. in actually prosecuting various bad behavior on the part of our elected officials.
    Self reporting and self regulation…oh yeah that has sure been working for us.

  3. This City is turning into a [email protected]#$hole , simply because our Politicians are nothing but Liars , cheaters,and thieves . all of this learned and perfected by Reed .this will only continue until people start being held accountable and possibly prosecuted!

  4. “Because the Rules Committee is made up of five members, no more than two of them can discuss anything in advance of the meeting without breaking the law.”

    Ummm, I think you missed the point, dear. Because the Rules Committee is one shy of a City Council majority, ain’t none of ‘em can talk outside o’ their committee. Likewise, three out of five makes a majority of that committee, so that many can never discuss any issue within their committee’s jurisdiction.

  5. Sam Sez: “We talked to the city attorney and then we assured (assured who—lap dog Doyle?) that the committee would not make a decision on that matter (“matter”, singular; but Jen tells us there were three matters, so which one of the three was it, Sam-boy?) so that there would be no concern or allegation that anything untoward would take place.” Sorry Sam, I still have concerns. This admission by Bike Boy Sam confirms what some of us have known for decades—there is no need to show up to give public comment at the meeting where the full council votes on a given issue, because the decision was already made in the Rules an Open (SERIOUSLY?) Government Committee. Sam’s argument boils down to—we violated the law, but we outed ourselves, so everything’s cool. Well, no you didn’t out yourselves, staff did. All this gibberish by Sam the former lawyer. Is that the best lie he could concoct ? And then there’s Jen, the journalist who almost gets it right week after week, who asserts: “The Brown Act prevents back room deals by making it illegal for the majority of an elected body to talk about policy matters in private.” The Brown act prevents nothing, Jen. The Brown Act SEEKS TO prevent back room deals, but is frequently honored in the breach by politicians statewide. Politicians have sought to eviscerate The Brown Act far more often than they have sought to eviscerate Prop 13.

  6. And as usual, there are absolutely no consequences to their unethical and illegal meetings, or anything else they do wrong. No wonder only a handful of people even bother voting. Disgraceful.

  7. How dare you talk ill of “Slick” Liccardo. Oh you haven’t looked at the Fed. Case Licking v. San Jose have you and the quick settlement and the facts surrounding it. $1095,000.00 and a lease back of a dollar a year for a drug rehab in a $1,000,000.00 neighborhood across the street from a kids park. Suckers.

  8. The law is just stupid. “Backroom deals” happen all the time and they are not all bad. Some are pretty good. The idea that “the public” or press for that matter has to know everything–all the time–is antithetical to good decision making. People, especially elected officials should be able to discuss policy questions more than 2 at a time. It is the law that is offensive, not the Mayor’s “breaking” it.

    Note the absurdity of the rule of two:

    Because the Rules Committee is made up of five members, no more than two of them can discuss anything in advance of the meeting without breaking the law. The Brown Act prevents back room deals by making it illegal for the majority of an elected body to talk about policy matters in private.

    • What’s absurd is that an attorney licensed in California like yourself who’s involved in local politics doesn’t know the Brown Act. There is no “rule of two”. On a five-member board or committee, any two can discuss a proposal outside of a public meeting as long as they don’t include a third, because that would constitute a majority.

  9. “Backroom deals” happen all the time and they are not all bad. Of course not. Only the ones against you are bad. Right, Rich?

  10. JMO, backroom deals are bad if they are not in the public interest. All “backroom deals” are eventually made public at the end of the process. But watching the sausage being made is pretty ugly–and having the peanut gallery watch and opine at every move makes for pretty poor sausage indeed–because instead of focusing on the end product, the workers are trying to look good for the audience–and it is not a pretty process.

    • Rich, having the health inspectors check in on that sausage as its being made is vital. So we get to taste a finished sausage? What good is that if it’s tainted with salmonella?

      Rich, you sound just like Nancy Pelosi when she said we’d find out what’s in the health care legislation when they pass it.

  11. The problem is when the City Manager’s Office “Gaeta” discriminates against you time and time again.