On Tuesday Chris Prevatt, publisher of TheLiberalOC, filed a complaint with the Orange County District Attorney (DA) over the apparent violation of the Brown Act by Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez, and the City Council at the August 2nd city council meeting.

As Prevatt reported here, Alvarez interrupted Santa Ana resident Albert Castillo’s public comments and ordered the podium microphone turned off because he had criticized the Mayor by name in his comments. Alvarez announced that she was concerned that, since Castillo was an alleged supporter of Mayor Miguel Pulido’s opponent, he might start saying that “he (Mayor Pulido) was self-interested.”

In his email to the DA Prevatt wrote:

“They (the City Council) appear to be operating on rules that are not readily apparent but clearly restrict any critical speech about individual members of the council or their actions.  Given the pattern and practice of this Council related to public comment, coupled with their existing internal policy that improperly restricts the content of public speech, I feel it is imperative that a judicial order be sought to direct the council as to what actions they must take to maintain compliance with the Brown Act.”

“It is imperative that action be taken immediately to compel the City to fully comply with the Brown Act. It would be preferable for such an action to be taken immediately by the District Attorney to prevent any further harm to the public right preventing them from addressing their elected officials. The next meeting is scheduled for August 17th.”

Santa Ana has a policy regarding public comment that is written on the Speaker Request Form for Council meetings. In addition to indicating that speakers are limited to 3 minutes to address the Council, the form lays out the policy in detail.

Santa Ana Public Comment Rules Investigation of Santa Ana Brown Act Violation referred to Attorney General

Nowhere on the form does it indicate that comments critical of Council members are prohibited. Yet based upon the video of the exchange between Castillo and Alvarez it is clear the Council interprets the policy as restrictive of such commentary. The DA is the appropriate venue to level such complaints of Brown Act violations. However, in this case Alvarez is a deputy district attorney, there is an inherent conflict of interest for the DA to investigate such violations by one of his employees.

The DA’s office was quick to respond to the complaint and yesterday afternoon, Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder informed Prevatt that the matter “was referred to the Attorney General’s Office as one of the people on the City Counsel is a deputy district attorney.  Please direct all of your inquiries to them.”

I did have a chance to speak with Councilman Vincent Sarmiento today and ask him about this particular meeting. I focused on a comment he made to Mr. Castillo by mentioning the comments Mr. Castillo was making were not true. Councilman Sarmiento clarified that he took issue with Mr. Castillo’s comments that Mayor Pulido opposed Proposition 187 while Sarmiento thought Mayor Pulido HAD in fact endorsed the proposition. The Councilman later mentioned he may have been mistaken and did call Albert Castillo to straighten things out. (Point of clarification, Miguel actually opposed and endorsed Prop 187.)

Councilman Sarmiento went onto say that in his conversation with Mr. Castillo, he invited him back to the meeting to speak and mentioned Mr. Castillo would not be cut off again and would be free to mention Councilmembers by name as long as it is not slanderous or name calling, such as calling one of the members a “jerk.”

Councilman Sarmiento went onto say that he was concerned that there was not enough clarification as to what the Brown Act allows. He mentioned he is working with the City Attorney to brief the Councilmembers so that Monday’s incident does not happen again.

My personal opinion, Claudia Alvarez knew exactly what she was doing when she cut off Albert Castillo. The point was to cover up potentially embarassing information that could hurt the Mayor’s chances of re-election. What it amounts to is a blatant attempt to silence the truth. She should be punished for what she did, it was not an accidental misinterpretation of the law, it was intentional and malicious.

We are waiting for confirmation from the Attorney General’s Office the the matter had been referred to them. We will let you know what they have to say as soon as we do.