Mayor John Lazar requested a June 9, 2009 Council Meeting Agenda item to hold a discussion on “Closed Session” meetings convened by City Council. Subsequent to Resolution 2008-019, the Mayor may direct placement of a matter on the agenda for council consideration.
According to the Council Agenda Packet, the “Closed Session” discussion was that the City Council has recently discussed the confidentiality of matters addressed within “Closed Session” meetings. These discussions emanated from concerns that confidentiality was not being adhered to, thereby potentially limiting the City’s ability to successfully engage in business that is privileged to council members.
This issue of “Closed Session” meetings may be in regards to concerns over Council Members leaking confidential information. The most recent concern over alleged leaked information was when new City Manager hire, Roy Wasden, became exposed as a top candidate during the job recruitment process.
Mayor John Lazar said that several Council Members have had concerns about issues being discussed out of closed sessions and that he took it upon himself to try to find any substantiation to the allegation. Mayor Lazar believed that there were more important issues rather than dealing with contention and disagreement. Mayor Lazar request the Council consider putting this issue behind them and consider this issue closed.
Vice Mayor Ted Howze said “I believe that we’ve had a very clear violation of the Code of Conduct.”
Howze stated that if the alleged violation of the Elected Officials Code of Conduct did occur, it would very clearly rise to the level of criminal conduct. Vice Mayor Howze referred to the Code of Conduct document and said that there was no pathway for the Mayor to personally conduct an investigation.
Vice Mayor Howze requested that the Council follow the prescribed mechanism of the Code of Conduct which is to turn the investigation over to the City Manager or City Attorney.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton stated the Elected Officials Code of Conduct was adopted as resolution 2007-037. Norton read aloud the “Sanction” section of the Code of Conduct that read:
• Councilmembers’ Behavior and Conduct
City Councilmembers who intentionally and repeatedly do not follow proper conduct may be reprimanded or formally censured by the Council, lose seniority or committee assignments (both within the City of Turlock or with inter-governmental agencies) or have official travel restricted. Serious infractions of the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct could lead to other sanctions as deemed appropriate by Council.
Councilmembers should point out to the offending Councilmember infractions of the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct. If the offenses continue, then the matter should be referred to the Mayor in private. If the Mayor is the individual whose actions are being challenged, then the matter should be referred to the Vice Mayor.
It is the responsibility of the Mayor to initiate action if a Councilmember’s behavior may warrant sanction. If the Mayor takes no action, the alleged violation(s) can be brought up with the full Council in a public meeting.
If violation of the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct is outside of the observed behaviors by the Mayor or Councilmembers, the alleged violation should be referred to the Mayor. The Mayor should ask the City Manager and/or the City Attorney to investigate the allegation and report the findings to the Mayor. It is the Mayor’s responsibility to take the next appropriate action. These actions can include, but are not limited to: discussion and counseling with the individual, recommending sanction to the full Council to consider in a public meeting, and forming a Council ad hoc subcommittee to review the allegation, the investigation and findings, as well as to recommend sanction options for Council consideration. Videotaping of the complaint hearing should be used for a Council ad hoc subcommittee.
“My opinion is that I prefer to see this kind of decided tonight and put behind us. I don’t think we have any reason to continue or begin a new witch hunt,” said Mayor Lazar. “We have too many important issues to deal with and frankly we’re better served to focus our attention on policy matters. I would encourage this Council to schedule a review of the Council Code of Conduct and maybe a workshop, goal setting workshop.”
“I disagree, I think this is another issue to kind of put a wedge between Council Members and force us not to do the public good,” said Lazar. “I think it opens up other questions as far as other potential breaches of information coming out of closed sessions. I prefer to see this just ended here tonight in the public discussion here and move forward.”
Howze said that Council knew what had happened and what information had gone out, but did not want to discuss it as to not hamper an investigation if one does take place.
Howze said “I’m asking you, the leader of this organization, you want to put it behind us? Ok John, you just tell me. If you’re ok with doing the wrong thing, overlooking something you know clearly happened that wasn’t right, then that’s fine… I’ll put it behind us. I won’t say another word about it and we’ll just walk away from it.”
Mayor Lazar suggested “When someone tells you that they did not do what the allegation is, repeatedly, I got to believe the individual.”
Ultimately City Attorney Norton interjected and brought Council back to what was on the agenda, and only what was on the agenda. Norton did not believe the title to discuss closed session meetings could be jumped to taking action on conducting an investigation.
Vice Mayor Ted Howze said “I’m good with letting everybody sleep on it, it has been a long night.”
The issue was referred to the city manager. The city manager will poll Council Members whether or not they want to put this on a future agenda item in relation to alleged closed session leaks and potential investigations.
Later in the meeting during Council Comments, Council Member Mary Jackson requested that the Council review the Elected Officials Code of Conduct with the newly hired City Manager, Roy Wasden, after he officially begins the new job.
Jackson stated that there have been several breaches of the Code of Conduct by Council Members even before she took public office on December 9, 2008.