Bound and Gagged: City Attorney Orders Neighborhood Council to Keep Its Mouth Shut

DONE WATCH-In a gaff straight outta Donald Trump’s press briefing room, the City Attorney directed the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) to cease and desist from speaking to a local newspaper.

The eastside-centric Los Feliz Ledger, who broke the story exposing former LA Councilmember, Tom LaBonge, for hastily destroying documents like the Wehrmacht in an East Berlin bunker, covers the Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Atwater Village neighborhood councils in its beat reporting.

In June, the Ledger sued LFNC in Superior Court for failing to release email and election records under the California Public Records Act. According to former president Luke Klipp, LFNC was being directed by the City Attorney as to processing those requests, but given their inaction, that guidance likely was…stall. Only after the Ledgerbrought suit did LFNC release documents related to sub rosa activities of their “Ad Hoc Committee on Affordable Housing” and its leaders’ efforts to elect a slate of pro-density YIMBY (“Yes in My Backyard”) candidates in May 2018.

After two former LFNC governing Board officers filed formal DONE grievances, Klipp, an outspoken YIMBY activist, later published an 1800+ word “explanation” (with footnotes) on the council’s website that many in the community saw as “he doth protest too much.” LFNC’s executive officers later voted 3-2 to terminate both committee chairs, citing procedural failures, conflicts of interest, and a perceived inability to remain impartial. Both Klipp and then LFNC Vice President, Jon Deutsch, an ardent opponent of 2017’s failed Measure S moratorium on development projects exceeding the building code, argued against those removals. But the Ledgerreporting had built a compelling case showing LFNC had indeed violated city policy on complying with the Ralph M. Brown Act, and in general being more opaque than transparent with the public (as well as its own Board).

On July 25, 2018 Deutsch, now LFNC’s new president, sent out a council wide email, specifically directing his board members not to speak to Ledgereditor and publisher, Allison Cohen, saying, “Please do not contact or speak with Allison or her staff until I get the all clear from the city attorney’s office.” The gag order came just before the Ledger’s follow-up story citing the previously elusive records went to print.

California’s Public Records Act states: “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business.” However, when government agencies fail to comply in a timely manner, or opt to not respond at all, there’s little recourse absent the bringing of a lawsuit. According to the LA Times, their paper can, at any given time, have a number of lawsuits seeking public records within California. While this “just-ignore-it” stonewalling seems to be becoming the rule rather than the exception, the California Attorney General isn’t ordering state legislators — nor is the City Attorney ordering City Council — to not return the LA Times’ phone calls!

The City Attorney would be well within its purview requesting LFNC board members not to comment on pending litigation, which is standing operating procedure, but the City Attorney stifling LFNC with a “full lid” is indicative of their wont to continually treat neighborhood councilmembers like children who should be seen and not heard.

Perhaps Deputy City Attorney Darren Martinez and his NC Advice Division are on the same page with Trump calling a free press the “enemy of the people”? Either that or squelching potentially embarrassing news stories is a career-prolonging move designed to thwart most people who lack the resources to finance a truth-telling lawsuit.