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Council Nixes Investigation into Leaks Before Setting Procedures


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By Jorge Casuso

June 11, 2024 -- A deeply divided City Council on Tuesday voted to create clearly defined policy and procedures for leaked closed session items, but stopped short of launching an investigation.

The 6 to 0 vote came after a heated debate along political lines that saw the three members of Santa Monica's political establishment press for investigating recent leaks reported by the City Attorney.

"We know there have been leaks. We just don't know who did it," said Councilmember Gleam Davis, who along with Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick placed the item on the agenda calling for an investigation.

"I don't know who did it," Davis said. "I just know in a relatively short time there have been multiple leaks."

Councilmember Christine Parra -- who made the successful substitute motion that excluded an investigation -- said a probe would likely cost the cash-strapped City between $150,000 and $200,000.

And she called the item "a coordinated political farce" that would be "weaponizing the City Attorney's office for political gain" during an election year.

"I feel we're being targeted and attacked," she said, noting that she is up for reelection along with fellow Change members Mayor Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre in the November race for four Council seats.

"If we're totally committed to truth and justice, then let's just fix the process," Parra added. "There is clear coordination for political gain on this item, and I won't be a part of it."

Davis, whose motion also included directing the City Attorney to return with proposals "to impose penalties" on those who leak the confidential information, dismissed Para's allegations.

"The timing has nothing to do with politics," Davis said. "It's to address an issue that recently arose.

"We can adopt all the policies and procedures we want, but it won't make a doggone bit of difference."

Zwick noted that State law already covers violations of the public meetings act that include consequences for leaking confidential information from closed session.

While launching an investigation comes with a cost, Zwick said, there is "also often great cost to the City to that information being made public," potentially leading to litigation.

"Crimes have been committed, and I don't know why we have to have additional penalties," Zwick said.

Parra countered that she was "not against investigations," adding that "once we have procedures in place, I'm sure every one will have a laundry list of violations."

The original motion proposed by Davis failed on a 3 to 3 vote before Parra's motion was approved unanimously.

Para's motion directs the City Attorney to return with a proposal "on how to handle future confirmed leaks of information from closed sessions and what the remedy would be."

It also seeks a proposal "on how to revise council rules to include discipline or penalties for habitual offenses," as well as repeat Brown act offenses.

In addition, it directs the City Attorney to return with a proposal "to ensure the City’s ethics rules apply to Councilmembers."

Tuesday marked the second time in little more than two years that the Council considers launching an investigation into leaks from closed session, which typically involve legal, real estate and personnel issues ("Council Nixes Probe into Closed Session Leaks," February 23, 2022).

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