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DID THE COMMERCE CITY COUNCIL VIOLATE THE BROWN ACT?

By Brian Hews

An investigation by Hews Media Group-Community News has found that the Commerce City Council, led by Tina Baca Del Rio, Lilia Leon, Ivan Altimirano, and Oralia Rebollo conducted a closed session meeting and possibly violated the Brown Act covering open meeting laws by giving City Attorney Eduardo Olivo a nearly double digit increase in rates during that meeting without informing the public afterward.

The closed session meeting occurred April 5, 2016 and did not include current Commerce Councilman Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo recused himself because the council was voting on giving Olivo an increase in rates to fight the Quo Warranto lawsuit filed against him.

The filing of the lawsuit, which the City recently lost, was spearheaded by Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altimirano and cost the city well over $100,000.

In the ruling the judge slammed the City and Olivo for filing the lawsuit, which started from a letter written by current Commerce Council candidate John Soria, who claimed that Argumedo could not serve on council.

Soria is endorsed by Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altimirano in the upcoming city council election and was endorsed by three two years ago.

In his ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said, “the Court has examined the facts, and it has concluded that the City has not established morally corrupt or dishonest conduct by Argumedo. Defendant Argumedo is entitled to judgment in his favor and against the city of Commerce.”

In addition to Olivo’s fees, the city is looking at paying the legal fees incurred by Argumedo that are in excess of $280,000, for a staggering total of almost $400,000.

In the April closed session meeting, the council voted to raise Olivo’s rate from $180 per hour to $350 per hour and $275 to any other lawyer in the firm helping with the Argumedo case.

The motion was made by Leon and seconded by Rebollo.

The case against Argumedo was filed November 2015, yet the city Council waited five months to approve the “special terms and conditions regarding the litigation matter.”

According to Government Code Section 54957 governing closed session meetings, if the meeting involves an employee, or an independent contractor, “closed sessions held pursuant to 54957 shall not include discussion or action on proposed compensation except for a reduction of compensation that results from the imposition of discipline.”

The Section clearly dictates the City and its lawyers are not allowed to discuss or act on compensation in closed session meetings unless it is disciplinary.

But that is exactly what the city council did; at the closed session meeting they discussed “special terms and conditions regarding the Argumedo litigation matter,” and then failed to “report out” the increase in rates after the meeting.

One lawyer told HMG-CN that, “the City Council and its lawyers are not allowed to discuss or act on increased compensation in closed session. To the extent that the City Council discussed or acted on “special terms and conditions regarding the litigation matter,” if compensation increased, the city Council concealed the discussion from the public, failed to report out the compensation adjustments or increases, and violated the law. Discussions and actions such as that are required to be heard in open session.”

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