A rendering of the new North Branch Library.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Long Beach City Council’s motion to vote on an item that may have included a violation of the Ralph M. Brown act, a law that protects the public’s right to participate in local legislative bodies, has been called into question, with the focus being the actions leading up to the December vote to move ahead with a proposal to name the new North Branch Library after First Lady Michelle Obama.
During next week’s originally scheduled Tuesday night meeting—this week’s was cancelled to not conflict with President Obama’s State of the Union Address—the council will vote to rescind and re-approve the motion after members of Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson’s staff learned that some of their actions on Twitter could potentially open the door to legal challenges down the road.
During its January 5 meeting, the council was also forced to re-vote on a measure that granted a 66-year lease to a Los Angeles firm for the Queen Mary and the surrounding properties. The decision was made by the city attorney to re-agendize the item after after a lawsuit challenging that the city’s decision to list the lease number on the original agenda and not mention “Queen Mary” violated the Brown Act.
Richardson said motion to propose the re-vote comes out of an abundance of caution and not from the belief that his tweets, which he attributed to members of his staff, violated the Brown Act’s guidelines that a majority of a public body shall not meet and discuss topics yet to be voted on in secret. Richardson does maintain and post from his Twitter handle regularly, but also delegates postings from his account to members of his staff.
“I’ve never heard of any case, and neither has anyone I’ve spoken with, of the use of Twitter being part of any Brown Act Violation,” Richardson said. “But we’re building the bike while we’re riding it in terms of communication on social media as new forms come out all the time.”
Screenshot of the tweets called into question.
He said that members of his team were advised by the city attorney’s office that tweets that tagged four other members of the council and called for support of the motion that proposed the Obama name being placed on the library could possibly create a conflict with the Brown Act. The city attorney told his staff that they could proceed as is and things “might be fine” or revote on the motion to ensure concerns regarding the library's name don't emerge in the future.
Although he questioned the extent of the possible violation, or whether it constituted one at all, given that the tweets were available to everyone who follows his account or the other council members who were tagged, he said he had no issue with revoting to ensure that the process retained its transparency.
He added that, in his opinion, tagging someone on a social media platform is very similar to publicly pushing for support from members of city council, as has happened in the past during public rallies held before votes on other topics.
“I’ve seen the same things for years now where city council members will go have a rally before the council meeting and talk about what they want to happen at the council meeting,” Richardson said. “They’ll have a rally, rile people up and call on the council members and tell them to do the right thing. Well, that’s the same thing. You’re in a public space and you’re communicating directly, in public, and saying to your colleagues ‘you know what we’re doing tonight, you need to take this position.’ What’s different when you do it online?”
The Obama name being placed on the library led to some public backlash prior to the vote late last month that advanced the issue to the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee for further discussion. Richardson said the idea of having the First Lady’s name added to the North Branch Library, set to open in the summer of this year, was presented to him by students at Jordan High School and is largely representative of the majority of his constituents of North Long Beach, adding that he’s confident a second vote will yield a similar result.
The motion to revote is not expected to change the timeline for the additional community meetings hosted by the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee or the outreach efforts that the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine and Library Services were instructed to initiate after the December 22 vote.