After a testy debate, the City Council passed a controversial ordinance Monday night that would subject council members to $1,000 fines or six-month jail terms if they disclose any matter discussed in closed sessions.
The council voted 4 to 3 to approve Councilman Daniel E. Griset's proposal that prohibits council members from disclosing any issue discussed in closed session without authority from the rest of the council.
The ordinance also targets city employees "or any other person present" during closed council sessions, which are permitted by the state's open-meetings law only for discussions about personnel or pending litigation. The state law contains no prohibition against revealing the content of closed meetings.
Councilman Ron May, who voted against the ordinance, said he did not think it was necessary.
"I feel the public has long been leery and suspicious whenever elected bodies break for executive session," May said. "I think the feeling is that's where the real decisions are made. Any ordinance with such stipulations, to me, increases the mystique of public government. I can't support this."
Griset, however, said the ordinance was "a good proposal" that will help save taxpayer money by preventing "costly leaks."
Last week, City Atty. Edward J. Cooper presented a memo to council members that outlined what they could not discuss outside of closed sessions. These items included pending litigation, labor and personnel matters, applications for city licenses, purchases and sales of properties and threats to public safety.
The council has been studying Griset's proposal since its June 18 meeting.
Griset said "leaks of information" could cost the city millions of dollars in contract negotiations or litigation.
During the council's debate Monday night, Councilman Richards L. Norton argued that Griset's proposal jeopardizes the public's right to know what the council does in closed sessions.
The council has at least two closed sessions each month--either before or after the public portion of the meeting. In the proposed law, those who attend closed sessions could disclose only the content of discussions with permission from the majority of the council.
The new ordinance mirrors one in Costa Mesa, the only city in the county that has such a prohibition. Costa Mesa's ordinance was passed in 1962 and updated in 1985.