Council rule aims to keep executive sessions secret
A City Council member who publicly discloses details of executive sessions could be barred from future closed-door meetings, under a new rule proposed by Chairwoman Barbara Marshall.
"We are only allowed in executive session for very confidential matters, so clearly if we are in executive session, it is a confidential matter," Marshall said yesterday about Resolution 07-173.
Marshall confirmed yesterday that her resolution was prompted by Councilman Charles Djou talking to newspaper reporters last month about some details of an executive session for a Council briefing about a proposed city-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settlement on fixing sewer force mains.
The full agreement was made public when finalized a few weeks later. Djou insisted that he could talk about the pending settlement earlier because it was already decided and involved spending $300 million of taxpayers' money.
"I don't work for Barbara Marshall. I work for the people who elected me, my voters," Djou said by telephone yesterday from Washington, D.C.
Djou called Marshall's proposal an attempt to "muzzle councilmembers who talk about executive session."
"I really think this is overly broad and dangerous," Djou said. "It borders on dictatorial."
Marshall insisted that "when you get involved with what's been shared in confidence as a confidential agreement, then you're crossing the line," and sanctions are in order.
Marshall's proposal does not specify how long an offending councilmember would be kept out of executive sessions.
Marshall said she looked for Council rules on talking about what goes on in executive sessions after Djou's public statements in April and found none.
Marshall's resolution offers two exceptions to sharing what is discussed in executive sessions: if two-thirds of the Council votes to disclose the matter or if a court orders it.
Marshall's resolution was discussed at an Executive Matters Committee meeting Wednesday, but action was postponed until June because Councilmen Rod Tam and Djou were out of town.
"There was quite a bit of discussion," Marshall said. "Some members felt they should be able to go outside an executive session and talk about it. Others were aghast (at the idea)."
"This is a very serious issue for me," Marshall said. "It doesn't just involve Councilmember Djou; it involves all members."
"I think that it's important that this Council has a policy that executive sessions are confidential, period," said Marshall, who is a former television reporter.
According to state open-meetings law, a public board can hold an executive session for eight reasons, including to consult with the board's attorney.