Letter threatens lawsuit over disclosure requirements as Council to meet in secret
By Charles Douglas
An otherwise routine closed session of the Arcata City Council next Wednesday may be the beginning of the end of Nancy Diamond’s long, long tenure as their City Attorney.
Entitled “Performance Evaluation,” the item at the end of an otherwise light agenda gives the opportunity to the Council to address longstanding concerns with the conduct of Nancy Diamond, who has served in the position for over a decade. The City has lost a number of legal actions during her tenure, and her recent advice on Arcata’s constitutionally-questionable anti-panhandling ordinance has called her competence into question.
Local attorney Peter Martin is increasingly the standard-bearer for questions about the legal stance of Arcata City Hall. He made headlines earlier this year when he filed suit on behalf of political activist Richard Salzman to overturn many provisions of the anti-panhandling ordinance, which even criminalizes the holding of a sign at a street corner in downtown Arcata.
”I requested that they amend their ordinance so as to comply with our guaranteed protection of free speech as outlined in the United States Constitution,” Salzman stated in a release. “Since they declined to do so I felt compelled to file a complaint…against the City.”
Martin’s latest move is to send a warning letter to the City on behalf of Marc Delany, a former Design Review Commissioner who resigned last March based on an alleged violation of open meeting law by the Arcata Planning Commission. Delany’s latest complaint came in the form of a public records act request to the City, inquiring as to the total amount of fees paid to every attorney hired by the City over the past few years. Thus far, Arcata staff are refusing to provide this information, claiming it subject to attorney-client privilege.
“The cases cited by the city in support of its position actually stand for the opposite proposition, that is, that the amount of attorney’s fees paid is not privileged under California law,” Martin stated in his Aug. 31 letter. “Information about fees is privileged only if it would disclose tactics or strategy. A request for a total does not disclose tactics or strategy.”
Martin’s point, and Delany’s, is that the City of Arcata is acting as if it has something to hide — what’s more, Delany directly attacks the City Attorney’s office for what he sees as its mismanagement of litigation.
“The purpose of the public records act is to let the public know what its public servants are doing,” Martin stated. “The City can prove him wrong, if he is, by releasing the total amount of fees paid.”
Under the Brown Act, the Arcata City Council is allowed to meet in secret to discuss the performance of their staff — although any final action taken must be reported to the public immediately afterward.