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Council to Discuss Confidentiality Issues

October 04, 1997|KATE FOLMAR

Hoping to plug leaks to the media, the City Council on Monday will talk about how to keep closed session discussions confidential.

According to a report by City Atty. John Torrance, though, it's hard to force council members to keep their lips zipped.

Torrance's report, prepared at the council's request, came after media reports that Simi Valley Police Chief Randy Adams had apologized to the council during a closed session. The chief's apology was for not keeping council members up to date on his department's enforcement activities at a controversial charity event hosted by the Hells Angels on Sept. 7.

However, Torrance writes, "State law does not regulate the extent to which closed session discussions or materials shall be confidential."

In addition, a 1993 state attorney general's opinion, a widely followed guideline that does not carry the force of law, says that local entities do not have the ability to gag discussions of closed sessions.

Regardless, a number of cities have adopted local laws saying that it's illegal to discuss closed session conversations unless such discussions are authorized by a majority of the City Council. These laws act as a deterrent, Torrance wrote, and no prosecutions have ever tested their validity.

Other possible ways of keeping private discussions private include adopting a code of conduct or ethics for council members. Members who violate the code could be punished by censure.

Without changing any laws, Torrance argues that any closed session discussions with him present fall under the purview of attorney-client privilege, with the whole City Council being the client. "Thus . . . no individual council member has a right to breach the privilege," he wrote.

At Monday's meeting, council members will be asked to choose whether they want to adopt a penal ordinance, a resolution or a code of ethics; or to censure people on a case-by-case basis without changing laws. From there, Torrance's office will draft the appropriate document.

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