A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday reduced by half, at least temporarily, the 10% pay raise the City Council gave itself and other officials June 5 in what a taxpayer suit claims was a "secret meeting."
In granting a preliminary injunction limiting the raise to the 5% a year permitted by the City Charter, Judge Irving A. Shimer declined to invalidate the ordinance authorizing the pay raise, saying he found the manner in which it was passed was "bizarre" but not illegal.
Shimer left the suit's charges that the Brown Act and City Charter were violated for resolution at trial or by an appellate court.
"I am not making a judgment (on the suit)," Shimer said. "I am not trying the case. A trial judge may agree with (the city's) position" that the actions of the council were lawful and the matter accomplished in "customary" procedure.
"But for provisional relief purposes," the judge said, "rather than set the stage for refund . . . I would rather have the affected employees and officers be the creditors if the 10% approach is upheld (in later adjudication)" than the other way around.
The taxpayer and citizen activist who brought the suit, Dorothy Green, expressed mild disappointment after the hearing, even though her action did halt, for the time being at least, the 10% pay raise from becoming effective Wednesday, which it was timed to do.
She said she was "hoping the judge would not slap a Brown Act misdemeanor on the city, but I was hoping that he would enjoin them from acting this way in the future."
The Brown Act bans closed-door meetings by local public agencies except when personnel matters or pending litigation are being discussed.
Green, 56, of West Los Angeles is head of the Los Angeles chapter of the League of Conservation Voters.
Her suit challenged not only the amount of the raise but also the legitimacy of the council meeting at which the measure--which was not on the agenda--was unanimously approved by the 12 members present, without discussion before or during the meeting.
"The item was not on the agenda; the ordinance was not posted or placed before the public prior to enactment; there was no way to tell from the council file that a 10% increase was contemplated; the subject matter . . . was not identified in any manner . . . and it was rushed through a vote in less than a minute," papers filed with Green's suit stated.
As an addition to the day's agenda, "Item 53" merely was called by its number and the vote taken.
"Why the rush?" the court was asked in the documents. "How did Mr. (City Councilman Arthur K.) Snyder know that the 12 votes would all be in support of the ordinance unless the matter had been previously discussed by the council members present, which is a clear violation of the Brown Act and indicative of a secret meeting?."
"I don't know," Shimer said, "and you will never know if they had stood up and announced to the room (what they were voting on) whether the vote would have been one iota different."
Senior Assistant City Atty. Frederick Merkin argued that the council's approval of the ordinance and Mayor Tom Bradley's signing of it were entirely lawful, adding that it was customary at the end of a session to have add-on items taken up by number only.
Shimer said the council's action was not a Brown Act violation and was not illegal. But, he termed the manner of passage "insensitive" and "not worth it to them to handle it the way they did."
"They brought on themselves a lot of heat unnecessarily," he said.
He cited a legal precedent that held that the court "can't invalidate legislation even when the Brown Act has been violated" and further held that a misdemeanor charge is the only remedy for a Brown Act violation.
Talking to reporters after the hearing, Merkin explained the council's rationale for its action. The City Charter permits a pay raise of 5% a year for each calendar year following the operative date of the most recent change of salary for a particular office, he said. Since the council may only vote on increases every other year and the last operative date was 1983, the feeling was that council members were entitled to 5% for each of two years and they voted the whole 10% at once.
Green's attorney, Jeffrey S. Cohen, said, "Nobody is trying to keep anybody from getting a pay raise that they have earned and are entitled to, but not illegally."
Decision on Appeal
He disagreed with the judge's view that it was not illegal. He said he and Green must now decide whether to appeal the ruling or wait until the case comes to trial.
Snyder, who initiated the salary increase, could not be reached for comment, and his press aide, Paul Michael Neuman, declined to discuss the judge's action.
"We feel (it would be) inappropriate given pending litigation," Neuman said.