By Miriam Raftery
March 14, 2022 (Lemon Grove) – Attorney Cory Briggs, on behalf of the Project for Open Government, has sent a letter to Lemon Grove’s elected officials demanding that the City cure and correct alleged violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open government law. The letter, dated March 10, also announces an intent to sue the City over actions that Briggs claims deprive Councilmember Liana LeBaron of rights to express herself and represent her constituents.
Specifically, Briggs contends that several actions taken to penalize LeBaron should have been on the Council agenda, but were not. These include:
- Prohibiting LeBaron and other Councilmembers from interacting with staff regarding city services, except through the City Manager
- Revoking Councilmembers’ access codes to City Hall
“Each action violates her constitutional rights of expression,” Briggs’ letter states. Further, he says that denying LeBaron with a place to meet with constituents amounts to “outrageously burdening her freedom of expression and right of inquiry” by forcing her to meet in outside, les secure locations at a time of “social unrest and threats directed against public services,” though it is unclear whether LeBaron has received any such threats.
Briggs asks that the violations he cites be cured and corrected within 30 days, and requested written notification of when that will take place, adding, “My client may sue before receiving your response.”
ECM has sent an email on Friday to the City Manager and City Clerk requesting a response from the city to Briggs’ letter, but has not yet received a reply.
Briggs’ letter follows Tuesday’s contentious Lemon Grove City Council meeting, which ended with Council tabling a proposal to censure Councilmember LeBaron, as ECM reported.
The city has claimed that it has lost multiple staff members due to LeBaron regularly using a conference room at City Hall and interrupting staffers’ work with allegedly accusatory comments, though Briggs told ECM that oversight and asking questions are arguably part of an elected official’s oversight role.
At the March 8 meeting to consider censure of LeBaron, Mayor Racquel Vasquez denounced LeBaron for “outrageous and disruptive behavior.”
LeBaron has accused Council of trying to stifle dissent. “Their goal is to leave the residents of Lemon Grove without a pro-transparency, anti-corruption advocate by silencing me,” she stated at the March 8 meeting.
Video of recent meetings shows LeBaron repeatedly speaking without being recognized, often in an effort to get questions answered, and the Mayor repeatedly gaveling down LeBaron. Councilman Jones has said that some questions would be better posed in other forums, such as goal-setting workshops.
However the City has not yet responded to California Public Records Act requests sent separately by both East County Magazine and Briggs requesting written documentation of staff complaints about LeBaron, among other claims made by the city. The City Clerk would not produce records even when Briggs and an ECM reporter visited the office asking to inspect the records the day before the hearing, a withholding that Briggs contends was illegal.
The City Clerk said she could not confirm whether any such records existed, and that none had been provided to Councilmembers prior to the hearing, but that that any such records would first have to be redacted by the City Attorney before being released to the public.
doesn't this guy ever get tired