PLEASANT HILL -- City Attorney Janet Coleson won't investigate whether three council members violated California's open meeting law, as she believes there's no evidence they conspired to deny former Vice Mayor Jack Weir the mayor's seat.
On Dec. 2, Councilmen Michael Harris, Ken Carlson and Tim Flaherty rejected Councilman David Durant's nomination of Weir to serve as mayor for the next year. The council subsequently elected Flaherty mayor by a vote of 3-2.
"I was in attendance at this council meeting and saw nothing that would indicate there was a violation of the Brown Act," Coleson wrote in a Dec. 18 letter to Pleasant Hill resident Mary Fouts. "Therefore, I see no basis for any further review of this allegation."
In a Dec. 5 letter to Coleson, Fouts accused Harris, Carlson and Flaherty of colluding before the meeting to block Weir's nomination. Fouts asked Coleson to investigate whether the three had violated the Brown Act, which prohibits a majority of any legislative body from deliberating an issue or deciding how to vote, outside of a properly noticed public meeting.
Even if the majority never met in person, or if they communicated in pairs to avoid forming a quorum, they could still be in violation of the law.
"For what it's worth, I think the complaint is baseless," Flaherty said of Fouts' claim.
In her written response, Coleson said Fouts didn't provide any "supporting evidence" that Harris, Flaherty and Carlson acted inappropriately. In an interview Friday, Coleson said she didn't want to speculate as to what type of evidence might have persuaded her to investigate. Nor did she say what she would have expected to see during the council meeting if the council members had, in fact, broken the open-meetings law. Although two weeks elapsed before she responded to Fouts, Coleson didn't ask the three council members whether they had discussed the election before the vote. The three men have been trained in the Brown Act and she doesn't have any reason to believe they would violate it, she said.
"People can make allegations about all sorts of things. I need to hear something that provides a basis for some sort of investigation," Coleson added.
Fouts doesn't believe the burden of proof lies with the person who files a Brown Act complaint.
"It's not my responsibility to go and subpoena the three council members for depositions to get the evidence to present to (Coleson)," she said. "That's her responsibility to do that."
Harris, Carlson and Flaherty have denied forming an alliance against Weir. At last week's council meeting, several people blasted the trio for breaking with the tradition of promoting the vice mayor, and called on Flaherty to give up the mayor's seat. But Pleasant Hill resident Paul Cotruvo applauded their action and slammed Weir for pursuing the county clerk position earlier this year.
Despite Coleson's decision, fallout from the mayoral vote may continue into next year. Fouts vowed to pursue the Brown Act issue after the holidays. Meanwhile, a group of residents has set up a website and email address to gauge community support for recalling Flaherty, Carlson and Harris.
"It kind of saddens me in the sense that this is the democratic process at work, and we don't always agree with the outcome of the process," Carlson said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.