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Jewish Group Says Selection of Muslim for Award Made Illegally

The group contends a county panel violated state's open meeting law.

September 13, 2006|Teresa Watanabe | Times Staff Writer

The Zionist Organization of America asked for an investigation Tuesday into allegations that the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission violated state open meeting laws when it selected a local Muslim leader for its annual humanitarian award.

Stephen Saltzman, executive director of the Zionist organization's Southern California office, said the commission failed to post in advance proper details of two July meetings at which the issue was discussed, as required by the state open meeting law known as the Brown Act. As a result, he argued, the decision to grant the award to Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, was "null and void."

The organization asked for the investigation in a letter Tuesday to Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Antonovich.

"The Brown Act gave the public the right to know and to participate in the decision-making process," Saltzman said. "We intend to pursue this until we're satisfied."

Similar complaints were made by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization, and others to the supervisors at their meeting Tuesday.

County Counsel Ray Fortner's office is reviewing the allegations, according to a board source.

Commission President Adrian Dove said there was "no substance" to the allegations. He and another commissioner, the Rev. Zedar E. Broadous, said proper notifications had been issued before both meetings.

The selection of Hathout as the first Muslim to win the award has sparked intense controversy over whether his criticism of Israel, statements supportive of Hezbollah, and other political views should disqualify him for the award. The commission is set to vote Monday on whether to reaffirm or rescind the award.

But Saltzman and others said the commission's July 10 meeting notice failed to include any agenda item notifying the public that nominations for the award would be taken, discussed and voted on.

The meeting notice posted on the commission website said that "suggested nominations for all offices would be discussed" and a slate of nominations for commission offices would be created.

That day, Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council met with the commission and nominated Hathout for the award, according to commission Executive Director Robin Toma. He said Hathout was approved by six of the eight members present.

The commission subsequently posted on its website a July 17 meeting agenda that included the item "awardee." But then it posted a notice that the meeting had been "canceled due to a lack of quorum."

In fact, the commission held a meeting that day and voted eight to none to affirm Hathout, according to Toma.

He declined to comment on the allegations, saying his commission was still reviewing the matter.

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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