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June 30, 2022

Vice Mayor voices transparency concerns

“Future Agenda Items” is usually one of the least contentious portions of a Council meeting. It’s a time to propose new ideas and look ahead to what elected officials might tackle next.

But on May 18, when Coun. Derek Timm proposed looking at raising the Pride Flag a couple of weeks before an official flag policy might be finalized, and the civic discourse started to disintegrate.

It began when Coun. Jack Dilles said he’d be happy for such a proposal to come forward at their next regularly-scheduled meeting.

“I would gladly join in and say that that’s exactly what I would like to see happen,” he said.

But Vice Mayor Jim Reed bristled when staff asked to see a majority of the Council indicate they’d like an agenda item on June 1 that could allow for the rainbow ensign of the LGBTQ+ movement to flutter all of Pride Month.

“My comments have nothing to do with the underlying motion,” said Reed, who serves as chief of staff to outgoing San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

He said approaching any issue this way could be seen as breaking the rules of California’s “sunshine” law, the Brown Act, which lays down specifics about how municipal officials should act to prevent backroom dealing and ensure transparency.

According to Best Best & Krieger Attorneys at Law, a government body “may not take action or discuss any item that does not appear on the posted agenda.” Reed said he was worried that Scotts Valley could run afoul of allowed conduct by getting an early majority about a specific policy.

City Attorney Kirsten Powell disagreed with him, noting that the elected officials wouldn’t be indicating positions, just that they were okay with the matter coming up for discussion.

Coun. Randy Johnson seemed confused by the staff’s request for a majority at the Future Agenda Items stage.

“Typically, all you need is one person” to propose something to have it amended, he said.

Reed said he understood Powell’s perspective.

“Kirsten, you’re the lawyer, not me,” he said, reiterating his concerns have nothing to do with whether Scotts Valley should fly the Pride Flag for the entire month or not. “This doesn’t feel right at all.”

Powell said a simple majority was sought in some cases in the past and noted it would help guide staff when “more controversial” subjects arise.

Some area residents don’t think the Pride Flag should be flown over official buildings. Last year, after raising the rainbow flag in honor of gay rights icon Harvey Milk, the Scotts Valley Unified School District declined to fly it in June after an outcry from some locals.

And on May 4, parents and students professing the Christian faith spoke out against the flying of the Pride Flag at a San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District school board meeting.

“I think in the past, we’ve probably been less strict,” Powell said. “We’re trying to get more structure.”

Coun. Johnson wondered if this meant staff had changed a City policy behind the backs of elected officials.

“Doesn’t even that act have to go through some sort of Council approval?” he asked. “Has Council approved the policy that you’ve just described?”

Powell replied that previous City Managers had approached issues this way.

Reed said he understands it can be “awkward” for some city managers to work on an item brought forth by a single Council member.

“Randy and I are listening to the obvious implication of what you’re saying,” he said. “This just does not feel right.”

Timm said he remembers the previous City Manager Tina Friend asking for a majority of Council members to indicate support for a future agenda item before getting to work on preparing that.

The members of Scotts Valley City Council take turns being mayor each year. Last year Timm was mayor, and Reed was Vice Mayor.

Usually, the Vice Mayor is appointed by the outgoing Mayor.

But Timm decided to give the job, for 2022, to Donna Lind.

She’d been mayor before but had been “skipped over” more recently, Timm said at the time—with Reed claiming that happened at the behest of Timm, so he butt-ahead in line to be mayor for the first time. Timm denies he asked Reed to help sideline Lind.

“Please don’t interrupt one another,” said Lind, chastising the men as they came to loggerheads on May 18. “Through the years, anyone could request an item.”

And Lind noted it was also standard practice, at times, for a city manager to read the room to see if there was broader support for staff to work on an item beyond a single Council member.

City Manager Mali LaGoe, speaking for the first time on her first public controversy since getting the job earlier this year, sought to clarify what she was asking for. She said she just wants to make sure she’s working on behalf of the entire Council.

“Staff’s not asking for a vote,” she said. “We’re just asking for that level of consensus.”

Vice Mayor Reed suggested Scotts Valley establish a two-person “rules committee” that, in some cases, consists of the mayor and vice mayor, effectively giving him a veto over potential agenda items.

“I guess what does seem different is this is the first time I recall being told this is our new method of bringing things forward,” he said. “We’re talking about something without talking about it (in a way) that I think would not hold up in court if anyone would challenge us about violating the Brown Act.”

Lind said she supports putting Timm’s proposal on the agenda and noted that bringing up the rainbow flag matter at their next meeting could happen under the vice mayor’s paradigm.

“It isn’t a vote,” she said. “We’re not taking any action.”

Powell said that silence was taken as a sign of support in the past, and that’s problematic.

“Silence can be interpreted either way,” she said.

Johnson asked the city attorney why she figured raising the rainbow colors topic required a majority.

“How did you decide this is controversial?” he asked.

“I misspoke,” she said, walking back her comments slightly.

Staff was directed to bring forward the fast-tracking of the Pride Flag-raising item and prepare a report on the Future Agenda Items policy.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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