A special session of the Cypress City Council was held beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 10, to address four items brought forward by Cypress Mayor Paulo Morales:
- Direct Council Member Marquez to Comply with the California Public Records Act
- Require Council Members to Adhere to Public Records Act Response Deadlines Established by City Management
- Authorize the City Manager to Retain Special Legal Council to Assist in Responding to Public Records Act Requests
- Place a Resolution on the June 13, 2022, City Council Agenda Censuring Council Member Marquez for Violating the Laws of the State of California by Failing to Respond to Public Records Act Requests, Failing to Respond to Public Records Act Requests in a Timely Manner, and Disclosing Confidential Information from Closed City Council Session(s); Violating the Charter; Violating the Code of Ethics; and Violating the Civility, Conduct And Governance Policy
Before considering the items above, the Council heard from three Cypress residents listening online.
The first to speak was Steven Mauss, who appealed for ”peace, stability, and mutual respect.” He asserted that he feared that consideration of the topics on the agenda was preparing the ground for an attempt to remove Council Member Marquez from the Council.
Regarding removal from the Council, the Cypress City Charter (pdf) states [Section 403(b)]:
Note Item #2 in the list above regarding violations of the City Charter, and Item #4 in the list of agendized items for the meeting, which asserts “violating the [City] Charter” as one reason for considering censure of Council Member Marquez.
In order to actually remove Council Member Marquez under Section 403(b), a majority of the remaining Council Members would have to make a formal declaration of the forfeiture and resulting vacancy.
Presumably, Council Member Marquez could then file for judicial review — but in the meantime could not serve on the Council.
The second to speak was Dr. Malini Nagpal, who agreed with the sentiment of Mr. Mauss regarding peace, stability, and mutual respect. She also characterized recent behavior of City Council Members and staff as “unhinged” regarding Council Member Marquez. As video of City Council meetings are available for viewing online, readers are encouraged to watch the last couple of month’s worth of meetings and judge for themselves.
The third to speak was Troy Tanaka, who explained that he was a schoolmate of Council Member Marquez and, while he often disagreed with her political positions, urged that the City Council not silence her voice.
Agenda item #1: Direct Council Member Marquez to Comply with the California Public Records Act
In preliminary remarks, Mayor Paulo Morales noted that there have been three (3) requests for public records since the beginning of the calendar year, and that all Council Members except Council Member Marquez have complied with the deadlines set by City Manager Pete Grant.
The three requests were submitted by Keep Cypress United, Fortis LLP, and Californians Aware. The staff report for this item provides a detailed timeline for only the Fortis LLP request. Although the other requests were not responded to in a timely fashion by Council Member Marquez, those requests have now been filled. However at the time of the special Council meeting, the response to Fortis LLP remained incomplete because the affidavit required to accompany documents was not filled out.
Mayor Pro Tem Anne Hertz-Mallari requested that City Attorney Fred Galante explain what was required for a “complete response.”
City Attorney Galante explained that a complete response would include a detailed list of the documents requested, an explanation of any documents redacted or refused, and an affidavit attesting to the completeness of the response. He added that due to the unusual breadth of the request from Fortis LLP, he was compelled to ask for an explanation of the scope and clarification of their request.
Council Member Marquez responded to this item at length, although most of her comments did not pertain to the particular question. She related a history of harassment that began on her first day, when she discovered that her mail had been opened by City staff before being given to her. She stated that she does not trust City management, and that she considered herself to be the “most honest [person] on the dais.” She claimed Xavier Becerra, former Attorney General of the State of California and currently serving in the Biden Administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services, to be a close and dear friend. She said that her personal attorney, hired at her own expense, had come down with COVID and that the attorney’s illness delayed her response.
Council Member Scott Minikus, in his turn, asked City Manager Pete Grant if it is standard practice for staff to open mail addressed to City Council Members. Mr. Grant said that it was. Council Member Minikus went on to say that his own mail was still being opened by staff.
At the end of discussion, the Council voted 4-1 to approve Item #1, with Council Member Marquez voting no.
Agenda item #2: Require Council Members to Adhere to Public Records Act Response Deadlines Established by City Management
There was not a lot of discussion of this item.
The staff report stated:
provides public agencies 10 days to acknowledge a PRA request and a reasonable amount of time thereafter to provide responsive records. Despite this flexibility, it is the city’s goal and (typically) its practice to complete its response to a PRA request in 10 days.
PRA requests sometimes require Council Members to search personal accounts, devices and records. When this occurs, it is important Council Members assist the city in complying with its PRA obligations. To ensure Council Members cooperate with city management when a PRA request requires records held by an individual Council Member, it is recommended that the City Council require Council Members to adhere to all PRA request deadlines established by city management; and provide all responsive records, justifications for records that are withheld, affidavits, and all other required information by the deadline. If a Council Member is concerned about their ability to meet a PRA request deadline, they must inform the City Manager in writing within 24 hours of receiving the deadline and negotiate a reasonable adjustment to the deadline. Council Members who fail to adhere to PRA request deadlines shall be subject to sanctions identified in the Civility, Conduct and Governance Policy.
The Council approved Item #2 unanimously.
Agenda item #3: Authorize the City Manager to Retain Special Legal Counsel to Assist in Responding to Public Records Act Requests
The staff report for this item noted that before this year, Public Record Act requests took up about 10% of the time of the City Clerk’s department, such requests were now demanding about 40% of the time of the City Clerk’s department. Additionally, a great deal of time of the City Attorney and City Manager was being devoted to the requests. The result was a delay of day-to-day City business.
Accordingly, Mayor Morales requested approval of general funds to pay for legal counsel to handle the requests, freeing up regular Staff’s time for their other duties.
Although in remarks during discussion of an earlier item Council Member Marquez had criticized spending more money on a special assistant to handle Public Records Act requests, the vote to approve this item was unanimous. Council Member Marquez did not repeat her criticism during discussion of this agenda item.
City Manager Grant also pointed out that a formal policy for handling Public Records Act requests would be on the agenda for discussion at the regular meeting of the City Council scheduled for Monday, June 13.
Agenda item #4: Place a Resolution on the June 13, 2022, City Council Agenda Censuring Council Member Marquez for Violating the Laws of the State of California by Failing to Respond to Public Records Act Requests, Failing to Respond to Public Records Act Requests in a Timely Manner, and Disclosing Confidential Information from Closed City Council Session(s); Violating the Charter; Violating the Code of Ethics; and Violating the Civility, Conduct And Governance Policy
This item provided two different possible resolutions to consider: a short version pertaining solely to Public Records Act requests, and a longer version that added previous items considered under an earlier proposal for censure that was never brought to a vote.
The Council voted 4-1, with Council Member Marquez voting no, to bring the longer and more comprehensive resolution of censure up for discussion at a regular City Council meeting.
Because previously agreed-upon policy called for at least ten days delay after approving to agendize, the Council then voted to place the resolution of censure on the agenda for the regular meeting of June 27, rather than June 13. The vote was 4-1, with Council Member Marquez voting no.