After Wild Debate, Council Rejects Motion to Ask City Attorney to Price Out Cost of Investigating Their Own Leaks. Votes to Create Draft Future Rules About What to Do When They Violate Current Rules

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This headlines is not a typo.

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office recently emailed the City Council to alert them that certain items that were discussed in closed session have been leaked to outside figures. Councilmembers Gleam Davis, Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick introduced a motion to require the City Attorney to create draft rules for the city on local penalties that could be applied to those found to leak (current local rules only apply to staff) and bring back a proposal on what the cost of conducting an investigation into the leaks brought forward by the city attorney in the email. As there are state and federal laws that already apply to leaking confidential information, so when this first appeared on the agenda it didn’t seem like this would be a controversial item to me.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Eventually, the Council voted 4-3 to NOT ask the City Attorney to bring forward a proposal to investigate past leaks, but voted unanimously to ask the City Attorney to bring forward proposed rules that would apply to not just the City Council, but also commissioners and other city boards creating local penalties for leaking confidential city information.

After a handful of clarifying questions and comments, Councilmember Christine Parra unleashed an angry and defensive comment that accused the makers of bringing up the issue only to hamper her re-election campaign as well as those of Mayor Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre. Her full speech begins and the 5:58:40 part of the meeting, available here on YouTube.

Parra refers to a study of past violations of the Brown Act and leaking closed session items as a “Waste of taxpayer dollars.” She went on to accuse someone of leaking that this item would appear on the agenda to the Santa Monica Democratic Club, who asked candidates about leaks at last week’s meeting. Parra went on by recounting an incident from 2022 when a confidential email was included in a packet to the Rent Control Board and was then leaked publicly.

She concluded by stating her proudly held belief that the city needs rules on how it handles future leaks, and repeated that they shouldn’t investigate past ones.

“If you want to prosecute violators, I’m all in favor of it,” Parra said, referring to future violations of the Brown Act, not ones that already happened.

Councilmember Gleam Davis fought back against Parra’s charge that her proposal to potentially investigate violations of the Brown Act and non-disclosure laws was political. She also questioned the value of creating a new set of rules if the Council doesn’t investigate leaks that it already knows has happened.

“It doesn’t do us any good to impose penalties for violating closed session confidentiality if we don’t do an investigation to find out what’s happening,” Davis argues. 

“At some point, integrity has a cost…this isn’t a question of ‘have there been leaks.’ We know there have been leaks.”

But Parra was undeterred, both by Davis’ response and the repeated entreaties by Zwick that there are indeed laws in place at the state and federal level that apply to the situation outlined by the City Attorney but that it’s still their responsibility to investigate who broke the law. 

“There aren’t policies and procedures in place for what you do and how you do discipline,” Parra maintained, which is true of the Santa Monica City Council Code of Conduct and the City Charter but not true state and federal law. “Once we have that in place, moving forward, that’s incentive enough not to do it.”

“It already is a state law. There are consequences for breaking it,” Zwick countered. “I don’t know why we would deny the investigation.”

In the end, Mayor Brock as well as Councilmember de la Torre and Vice-Mayor Negrete joined Parra in voting against the City Attorney creating a proposal to investigate the most recent leaks, defeating the motion 3-3. (Note: Councilmember de la Torre was not present at the time of the vote as originally reported, so moving the original motion failed because it lacked a majority vote.)

The Council then voted unanimously to have the City Attorney bring back an ethics proposal that applies to Council Members, charter members and commission members that could include investigation procedures. Depending what that motion says, and how the Council votes, an investigation into the past leaks could still be forthcoming.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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