News - July 21, 2010

Mayor: Public notice should have been given

by Renee Batti

After coming under fire over a likely violation of the state's open meeting law, Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline said last week that the consortium of cities he heads to address high-speed rail issues will discuss how to avoid future missteps.

Mayor Cline heads the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC), made up of five elected officials from Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto, Burlingame and Belmont. The coalition advocates for the five cities, which will be heavily impacted by construction of the Peninsula line of the state's high-speed rail project.

On June 10, Mayor Cline, Atherton City Councilman Jerry Carlson, Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt, and Mountain View Mayor Ronit Bryant met with Curt Pringle, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority board, to take him on a tour of the railroad right-of-way in each of their towns.

The tour, preceded by a brief meeting in Palo Alto's city hall, flew under the radar of public attention until a local newspaper reported last week that the meeting occurred, and that no public notice was given.

"It was one of those things where we didn't even think of it as a meeting," Mr. Cline said. "But in hindsight, it was a meeting. ... Technically, it should have been noticed."

The technicality was that the tour, organized to give Mr. Pringle a first-hand look at the areas that will be affected, with perspective provided by mayors and a councilman, wasn't a function of the PCC. But because three of the four elected officials who met with Mr. Pringle are members of the PCC, and represent a quorum of that group, public notice of the meeting would have been appropriate under the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law, Mayor Cline said.

The Brown Act requires that official public notice be posted when a quorum of a legislative body meets.

The planned tour had been talked about at a public council meeting, Mr. Cline said, and the PCC members had no intention of trying to hide the information.

He said the consortium will discuss the issue at its July 23 meeting. Members also will try to tackle a "broader challenge" that they face as members of a multi-city coalition of elected officials: When they meet on matters other than high-speed rail, representing their own jurisdictions, and a majority of them happen to attend the same meeting, is there a legal requirement to post a public notice in advance?

"It's really blurry now," Mayor Cline said. "We need to review it (to set a policy) for the PCC to make sure we tighten it up."

Another problem for the group is that there is no official staff member to take care of administrative details and tasks. Because Mr. Cline is the chair at this point, Menlo Park's city clerk sends out agendas, and staff members from other towns might take care of other tasks on a rotating basis. But there's no one providing the more complicated administrative support typically given to elective bodies, he said.


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