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SEAL BEACH : Accusation of Secret Meeting Investigated

June 19, 1991|SHANNON SANDS

The district attorney's office is investigating a complaint that the City Council may have violated the state's open meeting law in hiring a lawyer to defend three council members sued over the wording of ballot arguments.

"Right now, we have investigators in the field interviewing some citizens who have complained," Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregory J. Robischon said Tuesday. "We don't know how long the investigation will take."

The possibility that the City Council might have violated the Ralph M. Brown Act--intended to keep governmental bodies from acting secretly--was first raised at council meetings.

The concerns were about a decision by council members Gwen Forsythe, Marilyn Bruce Hastings and Frank Laszlo to hire attorney Tom Feeley to represent them.

Feeley defended the three council members in lawsuits filed by the city clerk and council members Joe Hunt and Edna Wilson. The lawsuits claimed that the wording of ballot arguments for the June 4 election was misleading.

Feeley also filed a countersuit against Hunt and Wilson, whose legal fees were paid by a Mola Development Corp.-sponsored committee that supported Measure A, which proposed building 329 homes on the old Hellman Ranch property. Voters defeated both Measure A and the competing Measure B.

Former Councilman Hunt, who resigned earlier this month, questioned the decision to hire Feeley because it was never publicly discussed. The first time the issue was aired in council chambers was when Forsythe, Hastings and Laszlo approved the payment of $10,000 to Feeley's law firm.

The council majority and city attorney have defended their actions and said there was no violation of the Brown Act. They contend that the city manager and city attorney handled the hiring of the attorney. The city charter gives that power to the City Council, but City Atty. Quinn Barrow said that power might also extend to other city officials under certain circumstances.

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