Alyssa Morin

Redondo City Council reveals closed session vote, Sammarco cries witch hunt

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Redondo Beach District 4 Council Member Stephen Sammarco

Redondo Beach District 4 Council Member Stephen Sammarco

Tensions were high at the Redondo Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday night as the council agreed to make public a confidential vote from their closed session meeting on March 18.

After a lengthy, heated discussion, the council revealed that on March 18, in closed session, they voted unanimously against the labor unions’ formal request of a six percent wage restitution. In open session later that same evening, the council voted instead to impose a three percent wage increase, despite protests from the labor groups. Councilman Bill Brand was absent from both the open and closed sessions that day. The rest of the council, except Steve Sammarco, voted for the motion to impose the three percent raise.

Councilman Sammarco, who was elected last year with the strong backing of employee unions, earned a wave of applause that evening when he stood against the council’s motion. The council chambers were filled with employee union members, many holding signs urging “honesty, fairness, and respect.”

Four years ago, city employees agreed to take a six percent cut in wages and benefits to help the ailing financial situation of their city. The Coalition of Redondo Beach Employees claims that they were promised restitution within two years.

The council’s decision to make the confidential March 18 vote public arose from Mayor Steve Aspel’s recommendation to authorize the disclosure. At last night’s meeting, Aspel explained that the motion was brought to him by councilmembers who sought to publicly decide the matter.

“This isn’t about taking minutes at closed sessions,” said Aspel. “We are not going to make public every smartass comment we make. This is to make public our vote back there and vote out here because we don’t want councilmembers to hide behind closed session.”

City Attorney Mike Webb had to step in a number of times during the discussion to explain the legal ramifications of the motion and to make sure that the council did not prematurely disclose the information in question as they were discussing whether or not to make it public.

“The privilege of closed session belongs to the council as a whole, not to individual members,” Webb said. “You can, in some instances, choose to disclose what happened in closed session if a majority wants to. And this is one of those times.”

Councilmember Matt Kilroy was the most outspoken opponent of making the vote public.

“I am not sure what the motivation is here,” he said. “But I think this throws cold water on us if we start revealing non-reportable actions from closed session. It will change the tenor going forward and it will make it automatically political. You will have to think in the back of your head that, however you vote back there, there is the potential it could become public.”

Brand disagreed with Kilroy.

“I wasn’t there that night and I am not sure why we are even doing this, but we are publicly elected officials and anything that goes on is public business,” he said. “I’m for it.”

Councilmember Pat Aust made a motion to make it public. Councilmember Jeff Ginsburg seconded.

“I’m all about transparency,” said Ginsburg. “During negotiations it could hurt the city to have those discussions made public but now that those are out of the way, I have no problem disclosing the vote. I’ll second it.”

Sammarco finally broke his silence as the vote approached.

“I believe this is about a witch hunt,” Sammarco said.

Despite the obvious dissonance amongst the council, they voted unanimously to make the March 18 closed session vote public. After it was revealed that the council had voted unanimously to reject the labor groups’ proposals, Mayor Aspel tried to put an end to the discussion and move on to close the meeting. Sammarco spoke up.

“Now I know that any item from closed session, if I want to make it public, i just need to get three votes,” he said.