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Council Votes to Investigate Closed Session Leaks

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By Jorge Casuso

February 10, 2022 -- After a fiery hour-long debate, the City Council early Wednesday morning voted 4-3 to investigate who has been leaking confidential information from closed sessions.

The leaks, said Councilmember Gleam Davis, who put the volatile item on the agenda, led prospective City Manager Rene Bobadilla to turn down the job ("Bobadilla Rejects Offer to Become Santa Monica City Manager," June 10, 2021).

The ongoing leaks now threaten to jeopardize the search for a City Attorney, said Davis, noting that there are community members who know the names of some of the finalists.

"I have reason to believe that people on this dais have violated the (State's) Brown Act and violated the confidentiality agreement," said Davis, adding that those violations could "constitute a crime."

"We need to know who did it, what happened, when it happened," she said. "If there are no consequences, the closed session is going to continue to leak like a sieve."

Mayor Sue Himmmelrich, who voted to launch an independent investigation, agreed, saying the leaks are developing "a reputation for not being trustworthy" that "extends to our entire identity."

"Having it happen once was bad enough," Himmelrich said, "but having these leaks again is even worse.

"The buck stops here," she said. "We can't be trusted to keep a secret."

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre took offense, saying that "the Mayor asked me if I was the one that leaked information."

The investigation, de la Torre said, was "a politically motivated witch hunt" that will further split a deeply divided Council.

"There is a power struggle going on," said de la Torre, a member of the Change slate that won three Council seats in November 2020. "One side doesn't get what they want, so they use this process to get reprisals.

"This further drives the wedge that we are already experiencing," he said. "None of this would be going on if one side got what they wanted, and it is politics."

Councilmember Phil Brock, who led the Change slate, agreed, saying the investigation "smacks of a political vendetta."

Brock argued that the $80,000 to $100,000 the investigation would likely cost would be better spent on tackling issues the community cares about.

"Spending City money on some indeterminate thing is not what we should be doing," he said. "I have no idea where a leak could have come from.

"If it ever happens again, then we go to an investigation."

Brock's substitute motion to beef up training on the Brown Act, which sets the legal guidelines for public government meetings, failed 3 to 3, with Councilmember Lana Negrete abstaining.

"This wasn't about a lack of Brown Act training," said Davis. "It's happened multiple times because there have not been consequences."

Davis also rejected the notion that calling for an investigation was driven by politics. "This has nothing to do with winning or losing or politics or retribution," she said.

Before voting to launch an investigation. Councilmember Kristin McCowan said that "as a member of this Council, we're in a very awkward position.

"There have been leaks," McCowan said. "I don't really know how I can vote no."

Shortly before the 3 a.m. vote, Lana Negrete, signaled she would support an investigation.

"I genuinely feel like, 'go ahead.'" said Negrete, who was appointed to the Council in June with the support of the Change slate.

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