The Redondo Beach city attorney reversed his advice to city officials last week, and in doing so may have kept them from committing a felony.
The City Council's meetings are videotaped and carried on cable television in Redondo Beach, as meetings are in some other South Bay cities. Mayor Barbara J. Doerr had proposed saving the videotapes and making them accessible to the public.
The City Council's written policy has been that "videotape recordings of meetings shall be retained for a period not to exceed three weeks," but no tapes have been destroyed.
City Atty. Gordon Phillips told city officials in a Jan. 21 memo that the tapes could be reused and that they did not have to be made available to the public.
But in an interview with The Times, state Assistant Atty. Gen. Eugene Hill said his interpretation of a law that has been in effect since January, 1985, requires that a videotape of a council meeting be kept for 90 days and be made accessible to the public.
After being informed of the law, Phillips agreed with Hill's interpretation and sent city officials another memo late Thursday.
"I'm really embarrassed," Phillips said in an interview. " . . . Destruction of public records is a felony, so if we had erased any of those, we could have been in serious trouble."
When Doerr learned that Phillips' had reversed his decision, she said, "Oh, hot diggity! . . . Oh, how wonderful! It pays to be pushy and obnoxious once in a while." The written minutes prepared by the city clerk's office are the official record of Redondo Beach council meetings, but state law considers videotapes a duplicate record and requires that they be kept for the 90 days.
The city also makes audiotapes of council meetings that it keeps for two years.
"From strictly a lawyer's standpoint," Phillips said, "you certainly want to eliminate those tapes in the normal course . . . Whatever purpose they serve, they can also be used to impeach the council's own record . . . My general policy is the best legal protection a city can have is to be in a position where its own record cannot be impeached."
Minutes usually only show the action, he explained. In showing the intent of an action, tapes might work against the city in a legal challenge, he said.
All other cities in the South Bay also keep written minutes as the official record of council meetings, and all except Inglewood and Avalon make audiotape recordings as well. In some cities, those tapes are only kept until the official minutes are approved--usually about two weeks--and in others, the tapes are kept indefinitely.
(The state law requiring videotapes to be kept for 90 days does not apply to audiotapes. The state laws dealing with audiotapes set various requirements, depending on the purpose of the tapes.)
Other South Bay cities whose council meetings are taped and televised are El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale and Torrance. In all five, the tapes are kept for at least 90 days, officials said.
Hermosa Beach council meetings are broadcast live, but are not taped.
The requirement to keep a videotape for 90 days apparently only applies when a city has a copy of the tape or uses it in an official capacity, Assistant Atty. Gen. Hill said.
Catalina Cable TV Co., which tapes and televises the Avalon City Council meetings, does not provide a copy of the tapes to the city. Rancho Palos Verdes council meetings are videotaped by volunteers from the Palos Verdes Amateur Radio Operators who do not provide copies of the tapes to the city. The tapes are carried on cable television.
The issue of televising and videotaping meetings has continually created static between the Redondo Beach council and Doerr.
3 Members Adamant
Doerr first suggested that Redondo Beach televise its council meetings in August, 1985, but three council members--John Chapman, Kay Horrell and Archie Snow--initially refused to even discuss the request.
The following week, when a resident tried to tape the meetings for her civic club, the council unanimously voted to ban video cameras from council chambers, only to reverse itself a week later after public outcry.
In April, 1986, they unanimously decided to broadcast their meetings on cable television. Since Oct. 21, council meetings have been on cable live on the first and third Tuesday of each month and repeated on tape the following Wednesday and Sunday.
Doerr said she wants tapes of the meetings to be made available to the public "because 15,850 households in this community are now served by cable and they don't have the luxury of watching their government in action." There are 26,550 households in the city.
Doerr said she is making her own tape copies of the meetings, which she plans to eventually donate to the local historical society or historical commission.