Closed hearings on official wrongdoing were improper
CALIFORNIA–A superior court judge in San Jose ruled in early April that the City Council of Sunnyvale improperly held a series of closed sessions to discuss the conduct of a former mayor who had been removed from office for “councilmanic interference” and unbecoming conduct.
Holding that “wrongdoing or incompetence are matters of public concern,” Judge Richard Turrone ordered that documents regarding the closed meetings be released to the San Jose Mercury News.
The court rejected the council’s argument that a privacy exemption permitted it to close the meetings. Any privacy right protected by the California constitution is outweighed by the public’s right to know about the conduct of elected officials, the court said.
In January 1995, one month after being removed as mayor, Frances Rowe placed a full page ad in the Mercury News criticizing the city attorney for instigating her dismissal. Fearing that Rowe’s conduct was creating potential liability for the city, the council held eight closed sessions at which it imposed formal sanctions against her.
Shortly before the November 1995 city council elections, the newspaper requested copies of all documents concerning the secret meetings. The city refused and the Mercury News filed suit. (San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. City of Sunnyvale; Media Counsel: Edward Davis, San Jose)