BREAKING NEWS: Twentynine Palms Mayor calls for closed session on City Manager, January 17
Public comment precedes this last-minute City Council meeting
A Twentynine Palms City Council meeting with a closed session has been called by Mayor Steven Bilderain for this Wednesday, January 17, at 11 am.
The agenda item is listed as “CLOSED SESSION PURSUANT TO GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 54957 (B) (1) PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT - CITY MANAGER.” The details accompanying the item read, “A ‘Closed’ Session of the City Council may be held in accordance with state law which may include, but is not limited to, the following types of items: personnel matters, labor negotiations, security matters, providing instructions to real property negotiators and conference with legal counsel regarding pending litigation.” None of those situations appear to apply to this closed session.
The deadline for City Manager applications is January 18 so the reason for the meeting is a mystery. We believe, but have not confirmed, that the purpose of the closed session is for City Attorney Patrick Muñoz to advise Council regarding the process to be followed once all the City Manager applications have been received.
The City has not publicly announced a process, prompting residents to wonder whether the finalists for the City Manager position will be presented to the public for input and review.
We contacted Mayor Bilderain, who replied:
We are going to hire the best applicant and if we feel we need to resubmit the opening, we will. The position of the City Manager is an extremely important position in any city, and we need to find the best we can! We will not rush to make a decision, just to fill the position. We have an Interim Manager and a City staff that we trust and who are more than capable to keep the City moving until we fill the position.
As we wrote in reference to the January 9 closed session (reported here), the League of California Cities’ guide to the Brown Act discourages the use of closed sessions:
Some problems over closed sessions arise because secrecy itself breeds distrust. The Brown Act does not require closed sessions and legislative bodies may do well to resist the tendency to call a closed session simply because it may be permitted. A better practice is to go into closed session only when necessary.
We published an editorial, Who Should the City Hire?, last October, when the previous City Manager, Frank Luckino, resigned to become City Manager for Desert Hot Springs. We noted:
It’s crucial that Council avoids the mistakes of the past, when during the hiring process in 2013, a meeting was reenacted due to Brown Act violations. Sadly, it appears the City Attorney is a poor guide, as he reportedly chastised a Council member interested in open meetings and transparency for contacting the District Attorney about his concerns.
If you have a comment about the process of choosing a new City Manager, the Council’s seeming lack of transparency, or any other matter, you may comment at the beginning of the session around 11 am.
To comment, pick up a green (or occasionally gold) form at the entry desk, fill it out, and hand it to the Clerk, who is usually sitting in front of the Council bench on the right side. The public can also send comments via email to City Council Members and the cc Cindy Villescas, the Council secretary. We suggest requesting that emailed comments be read at the meeting.
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