Brown Act Violations Alleged in Library Takeover

OPEN MEETINGS

By Anne Lowe

The City of Santa Clarita is facing a lawsuit alleging Brown Act violations tainting the city council's recent decision to take over three libraries from the county system.

Attorney Don Ricketts filed the suit on November 8, claiming the council must have violated the Brown Act’s open meeting requirements prior to its public decision.

As reported in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal:

The Brown Act requires government bodies to conduct business in public. If a majority of the five-member Santa Clarita City Council had discussions and came to an agreement to approve the library takeover before its August vote, this would be a violation of the Brown Act.

The suit alleges that the City Council must have reached a consensus before it voted 4-1 on Aug. 24 to withdraw from Los Angeles County’s public library system.

Council members raised suspicions when they voted to withdraw from the county system and enter into a $19.1 million contract with the private library management firm Library Systems & Services LLC, or LSSI, in a single meeting, with no prior public discussion.

The City Council voted after three hours of public testimony, in which a majority of 150 attendees, including 48 speakers, opposed the takeover.

Ricketts said he was initially skeptical about the Brown Act angle on the issue. But after reviewing the facts – which include a string of private meetings between March 3 and August 19, the city’s request for library management proposals and LSSI’s Aug. 19 response.

The suit also alleges that the city “wrongfully refused to produce and allow inspection of public records requested by members of the public” as required by the state’s Public Records Act.

Ricketts is also the attorney for Save Our Library, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that filed two separate, but intimately related, lawsuits alleging violations of library patrons’ privacy rights.

These suits center on whether the city violates library patrons’ privacy rights, since their borrowing habits and other information will be turned over to LSSI.

Ricketts said the signatories didn’t have a “smoking gun,” but filing the suit met the deadline to keep the issue alive. The signatories had 15 days from City Attorney Carl Newton’s Sept. 28 response letter to file a lawsuit to meet the statute of limitations.

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