Former West Linn councilor says council violated executive session laws for Cummings
The only reason former West Linn City Councilor Brenda Perry hasn't filed a complaint with the Oregon Ethics Commission (OEC) against the current West Linn council is because she thinks to do so would only further harm the City's reputation and cost taxpayers more money in legal fees.
The complaint Perry considered filing was about the council's decision to let the law firm of City Attorney Tim Ramis represent Council President Teri Cummings as she fought a lawsuit from West Linn resident Rory Bialostosky over denied records requests for her council notes. Perry told the council about her concerns of the executive session and that she'd considered the complaint during the public comment portion of a city council meeting Aug. 5.
In her comments, Perry cited the council's own rules, which state that council members may not make legal inquiries of the city attorney that lasts longer than 15 minutes without approval from the rest of the council.
"It was clear that advising Councilor Cummings on how to respond to the request for her notes and on whether and how to defend against the subsequent lawsuit would take longer than 15 minutes," Perry said at the Aug. 5 meeting. "When was this decision made? There was no discussion or vote at a public meeting. It must have happened at one of the multiple executive sessions on this topic."
According to Perry, this decision would apparently violate Oregon executive session laws, which state, "No executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision."
She also noted that notices for recent executive sessions have cited the state law which allows public bodies to meet behind closed doors: "To consult with counsel concerning the legal rights and duties of a public body with regard to current litigation or litigation likely to be filed."
According to Perry, this contradicts Cummings' own argument in the case: that she, an individual councilor, is not a public body.
"Councilor Cummings is the only one mentioned in the case, not the West Linn City Council," Perry said. "Wouldn't it be more appropriate for her to meet separately with her appointed attorney rather than wasting the time of the whole council in multiple executive sessions?"
Perry said that when she approached the OEC about filing a complaint, the commission told her an official review would be warranted but for now she has decided against doing so out of what she describes as the best interest for the City. Filing the complaint, she said, would further tarnish West Linn's already poor state-wide reputation on transparency and cost the City more money in legal fees.
A public records request made by the Tidings revealed that the City spent $16,025 in legal fees to fight the lawsuit before the case made it to trial in late July. July's fees were not available.
Perry mentioned that fighting Bialostosky's appeal of the July ruling will only cost the taxpayers more.
In response to Perry's comments, City Attorney Tim Ramis defended the executive session in question, saying, "Decisions relating to litigation for the city are matters of lawyer-client privilege and that's the way they are determined and decided. The purpose of the exception of the public meeting law that allows executive session is to permit counsel and clients to talk about their approach to take and that's why those decisions, if there are decisions, or the consensus if there's a consensus, is done in the context of an executive session, because it's privileged communication."
After Perry made her comments at the meeting, Councilor Jules Walters said that she had never wanted the City to fight the lawsuit in the first place.
Cummings responded to Perry by saying that Bialostosky's request was overly broad, which forced the council to go to court over the matter.
"The original request was for any and all of my notebooks as a city councilor in their original form. It wasn't possible to fulfill that request. This is my ninth year on the council. It's an extremely large body of information of notebooks. ...We were forced to go to court."
Perry felt Cummings failed to address the main points she brought up in the comments, she later told the Tidings.
In April of this year, Bialostosky sent an email to the council stating he had never said he would refuse redactions or to narrow the scope of the request.
Bialostosky has said he plans to appeal the July ruling, which favored Cummings .
On July 25, the Tidings made a records request for the audio tape of the executive session in which council authorized Ramis to represent Cummings, which was denied 13 days later.
In his reasoning for denying the request, Ramis cited Oregon's lawyer-client privilege rule.
"This provision is intended to put public officials on equal footing with private litigants in their privileged communications with legal counsel. Discussions in executive session may proceed to the point in which the governing body has reached an informal consensus as to its course of action," Ramis wrote.
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