Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sierra Madre City Hall and a Public Records Request

(Mod: Some of the events surrounding Sierra Madre's relationship with its law firm, Colantuono & Levin, have raised questions. This isn't anything new of course, the close involvement of this firm in the affairs of our City government have been a cause for concern for many in this town over the years. Recently open government advocate Gil Aguirre has been attempting to obtain documents from City Hall regarding Colantuono & Levin through a Public Records Request. And there have been some problems, as you shall see. I am posting here a letter and e-mail exchange between Gil and Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar. Consider this a progress report. We will have follow ups as things develop further.)

August 3, 2102

Re: Request to view public records

Dear Ms. Aguilar,

Pursuant to the rights afforded me under State laws, commonly referred to as the Brown Act and California Public Records Act, I seek to view the following public records held by your agency:

1. All invoices or other form of billing statements submitted by Colantuono & Levin to the City between September 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011.

2. Any invoices submitted by Colantuono & Levin to the city for services provided, or expenses incurred, which were provided by the firm to the City between September 15, 2011 and September 30, 2011.

3. Any and all payments made by the City to Colantuono & Levin, or any other law firm or attorney, between September 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011.

Once the requested records are available, simply contact me so that we can arrange a time which is convenient for staff for me to stop into City Hall and view the records. If I can provide any additional information which would assist staff in locating the requested records, do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely, Gil Aguirre

(Mod: Ten or so days later the following was issued by the City of Sierra Madre:)

August 13, 2012

Dear Mr. Aguirre:

On August 13, 2012 the City of Sierra Madre received your request for Public Records, pursuant to the California Public records Act, Government Code Section 6250 et seq.

You requested the following records:

(Mod: these are the same three items detailed in Mr. Aguirre's request above.)

Pursuant to Government Code Section 6253(c) this letter serves as a formal response to your request and noting that I am responsible for this determination. I am including the information that can be disclosed and for which we have records.

The documents for items 1 to 3 will be available for your review on or after August 16, 2012. The invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted. Information, other than the dates, times spent and total billed, will be redacted.

You may contact the City Manager's office at (626) 355-7135 to arrange a time that is convenient for you to review the records. Copies of records can be provided at a cost of 6 cents per page.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Elaine Aguilar
City Manager

(Mod: Upon receipt of Elaine's letter, Gil replied ..)

August 14, 2012

Re: August 13th City response to public records request

Dear Ms. Aguilar,

Thank you for your August 13, 2012 determination regarding my original August 3rd request to view public records.

I must take exception to your determination that "the invoices and billing statements are attorney client privileged documents and cannot be released, unless redacted." You indicate that the City intends on redacting all information other than "the dates, times spent and total billed."

I would suggest to you that courts have found that legal billings are protected by the attorney client privilege only to the extent that they contain confidential information communicated by the client or the legal opinions, theories or conclusions of the attorneys. The courts have also held that the identity of the client, the amount of the fee, the identification of payment by case file name and the general purpose of the work performed are usually not protected from disclosure by the attorney client privilege. Therefore, redaction of this type of information is unacceptable.

I would ask that you reconsider your determination in this regard and notify me of your decision. Once I hear back from you, I will make arrangements to come into the City to view the records at a time that is convenient for staff.

Sincerely, Gil Aguirre

(Several days of silence later ..)

Friday, August 17, 2012 3:45 PM

Ms Aguilar,

Please inform me if the City has reconsidered its determination and if the requested records are available for viewing.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Gil Aguirre

(35 minutes pass, and then ..)

Friday, August 17, 2012 4:20 PM

Hello Mr. Aguirre,

As previously advised, I will make redacted copies of the legal invoices you requested available. Information that is either attorney-work product or attorney-client privileged will be redacted; this means that any invoices regarding litigation matters will contain only the dates, time spent and the amount billed. For non-litigation matters, any description of the work which does not touch on attorney-work product or confidential attorney-client privileged matters will not be redacted. In addition, unredacted monthly summaries of the work performed and cost for each work category are public record documents and are available for your review without redaction.

We are in the process of reviewing the actual invoices for confidential matters and anticipate that the appropriately redacted invoices, along with the unredacted monthly summaries, will be available for your review after August 22nd.

Sincerely, Elaine Aguilar

(Mod: That is where things stand at this time. More information will be posted here as it becomes available.)

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

75 comments:

  1. Interesting. Curious about what Aguirre is looking for, and why Aguliar is resisting giving him the documents he needs. We, as taxpayers should be able to know how our tax money is spent, and why the cover-up. Even when asked by Council Member Koerber about billing of C & L , there is always the "I can't tell you" answer.

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    1. What a stupid move on the city attorney's part. An open government advocate follows the proper procedure to get a look at documents, and is civil no less, and then the city response is to play hide and seek. Stupid.

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    2. There must be something VERY incriminating in those documents for Aguilar and Levin to embarrass themselves like this.

      The dates requested are also interesting in that they are for a relatively short period of time compared to how long Colantuono & Levin have been fleecing Sierra Madre. I would have asked for years worth of invoices, especially during the Measure V initiative and campaign.

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  2. Elaine controls two of the real power centers in this town. Both the City Attorney and the SMPD answer to her on a day to day basis. Once every two weeks she has to share control a little, but outside of that the legal reins in town are all hers.

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    1. The city replies are pure attorney speak. I'll be surprised if Aguilar had one word for those letters - it's all Highsmith, or actually, maybe boilerplate C & L. Heck, we might be reading Colantuono himself.

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    2. That's why C&L makes the big bucks. They keep the taxpayers out of the process.

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  3. Here in La Habra Heights an investigation into allegations the City's Mayor was receiving special access for a building project has triggered changes in how Public Records Requests are handled.

    This after a (1) Public Records Request was filed with the City for the Mayors building plans yielded nine "No Records Found" response letters from the City. The Mayors grading plan and floor plan was later released to the Internet by a local journalist, no Public Records request was necessary.

    As a result of the release, City Manager Shauna Clark sent out the following memo. Read memo at: http://bit.ly/QOp7Bg

    A second Public Records Request seeking the same information took 10 days to receive a response. Now the City is asking for 15 more days to locate documents they initially denied they possessed. The fact of the matter is the City has documents regarding the Mayors building plans but is keeping in the backroom of City Hall away from the pesky public.

    You can read more about how City of La Habra Heights NOW handles Public Records Request by clicking on the following link: http://www.lahabraheights.net/News/RecordsReleaseDelayPolicy.html

    If you're not aware, Colantuono & Levin also represents the City of La Habra Heights.



    Note: Recently property owners here defeated the City's New Road Tax by 2-1, following the Tax Revolt started by the people of Sierra Madre. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/GeorgeEdwardz


    EOM (end of message)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good morning, George! Thank you for joining in on today's blog. Public Records Requests are still a murky area to most citizens and they are somewhat baffled by their rights and expectations.

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  4. What is being concealed from public knowledge?The City's refusal to disclose the requested information implies fraud and deceit.Time to take direct action.Taxpayers have the right to full disclosure!Enough of the City's contempt and arrogance towards the public...We have t he right to know the Truth!!!

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    1. Agreed, 7:43.
      Enough evasion.
      Our city staff is asking to be sued again.

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    2. Yes. Former Mayor, Mr. Kurt Zimmerman, demanded a forensic audit. It was not approved by the rest of the council. This was a mistake, a big mistake.
      Now we must try to do damage control.

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    3. Earl Richey asked the city council on multiple occasions for a forensic audit.

      There was just blind stares...

      Why is the city council allowed to keep kicking the can down the road?

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  5. At one point in the last city council meeting, I heard the city manager claim that attorney-client privilege for legal bills ruse. Maybe the city staff and their council buds are just too freaked out that we'll actually learn the dollar amount they spend.

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    Replies
    1. She said that when our newest council members were asking for specifics about legal bills.

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  6. How much money did the City spend so the C&L could hold endless Planning Commission meetings discussing the "Suites vs. Units" matter?

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  7. With Cities declaring bankruptcy on the march,people are going to become more concerned over how their tax monies are being spent.The Era of the Tax Revolt may be on the way.

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    Replies
    1. Citizen activism is back in style.

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    2. I'd be curious to know also, 8:21 since there were also 2 closed meetings with the planning commission on the subject and I believe that 2 attorneys were present then. Their reason for a closed meeting to discuss suites? possible litigation. This after Shields had already said he wanted a vote on the project.

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  8. uhhhhh, isn't the city the client and since we are the city we should be able to see what we are being charged etc?

    typical city BS

    I smell a scam and it reeks

    sorry if I'm a little jaded, same city staff and Council that created a totally false public emergency clouded with complete and utter deception hiding special pork projects and the misdoings of previous Councils

    and now we are supposed to believe the city?

    ha ha

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  9. Eliane doesn't stike me as the sharpest tool in the shed and like past city managers, just using Sierra Madre to pad the resume' for the next gig and push larger city social agendas upon our town

    and then hide behind convuluted language, stall tactics and outright falsehoods to protect her position which is often contrary to the citizens of our city

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    1. She might be dusting off the old resume as we speak.

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    2. What about all bills are paid are budgeted expendisture and the City Council has approved the budget? If you're examining who spends how much on what, look no further than the City Council who approved the budget under which the expenditure is paid.

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    3. Elaine is not a bad person, she is a kind lady, HOWEVER, she works for the city council majority, always.
      When MaryAnn was the Mayor and had the council majority, she helped push through the Canyon Zone, something that had needed to be done for 30 years and was not done because of a small handful of over development characters, such as Glenn Lambdin, for one.
      Anyway, she did this, she helped Mayor MacGillivray.

      Now she works for the majority, which was John Buchanan, Joe Mosca, Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh. Is now Josh Moran, Nancy Walsh (both controlled by the over development dirt gang) and John Harabedian, who works for the Democratic Party interests.
      So.......Elaine is getting paid by people who do not want the same things we want. She is doing her job, as they request she does it. I'm sure Elaine doesn't care at all what the political issue is, only who is in charge of signing her checks.
      This is to be expected.
      California is run by people like Elaine and unfortunately, people like the SCAG and SGVCOG crooks, and all the senate and assembly majority who do not have anyone's interests but their own.
      This is well known by all of us.

      As for C&L attorney firm.....they are bad people. They have far reaching interests in many cities and in Sacramento. They are known for supporting bad things for Sierra Madre and other cities and all of California. They are bad people.

      In conclusion.....Elaine should be replaced, so should Josh and Nancy. It's very simple, Sierra Madre voters....do not put these type of people in office. It is your fault we are in this mess.

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    4. 9:37, accurate and reasonable. Great post.

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    5. ELAINE NEEDS TO FIND ANOTHER CITY TO WORK FOR!

      WE THE CITIZENS OF SIERRA MADRE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!

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    6. No need to shout. We Tattlers can hear you.

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  10. From my own experience, it common practice for the city to destroy all records, including and not limited to building plans, or any information that can be supeonaed by an attorney or citizen, that may be incriminating.
    All this is based upon instruction by the city attorney, Aquilar is a good city manager following the dictates of C&L.
    If it doesn't exist you can't get it...Including agendas from previous years.
    So, if you have any records generated from meetings, etc. Hang on to them, you may need them someday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fortunately, some of the Tattler readers, both here in Sierra Madre and other places DO HANG ON TO RECORDS. We do this.
      We are not paid to do this. We just do it.
      We will continue to do this.

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    2. Shortly after Colantuono and Levin were retained by the City, many cases of City Records and Documents were destroyed and discarded with the assistance of some LOCAL attorneys along with Bill Tice, who spilled the beans about it at a candidates forum at the Masonic Hall in 2006. I'm sure some Tattlers would be very disappointed to find out who those attorneys were.

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  11. Be careful what you wish for. Does anyone want a party that is suing the city to be able to obtain defense counsel billing records? If Mr. Aguirre is entitled to privileged and confidential billing records, surely the city's litigation opponents will be entitled to the same documents.

    Assuming the billing statements are detailed, the city's litigation opponents could very well divine the city's litigation strategies, theories of the case, and other privileged information that may well prove inimical to the city's defense strategies. Some billing statements are a veritable road map that would be quite a bonanza for the opponents.

    What result then? City defense counsel required to give billing statements to their's clients opponents would no doubt feel pressure to water down the billing language to generic, meaningless entries that could not possibly be vetted by the city client itself. Not a pretty result.

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    1. What needs to be followed here is the law. If the City Atty attempts to hide information from the public, who by law has the right to know, then the city has a legal problem. We as taxpayers have a right to total transparency from our City government. No matter what.

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    2. Good Lord, we have to school the city staff in following the law, again!

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    3. What law confers a "right to total transparency from our City government[?]"

      Perhaps Mr. Aguirre should ask for citation to the specific legal authority by which disclosure is being withheld. Then he can determine whether contrary legal authority supports his request.

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    4. 10:36, I can appreciate caution, but it would have to be proven on a word by word line by line basis that redaction was essential.
      That is the consequence of the mistrust that Colantuono and Levin have generated in the city of Sierra Madre.

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    5. I agree. I can see the reasons given in Elaine's correspondence being used to justify the hiding of information that the public not only needs to know, but has a right to hear as well.

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    6. Looks like a C&L attorney is posting on the Tattler.

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  12. Those comments made by Anonymous August 21, 2012 - are most likely made by someone who fears exposure!

    Be careful what you wish for. "Only fear is holding anyone back from asking?"

    Does anyone want a party that is suing the city to be able to obtain defense counsel billing records? "This issue is a red herring, it is all very legal to request and obtain such records in the state of California."

    If Mr. Aguirre is entitled to privileged and confidential billing records, surely the city's litigation opponents will be entitled to the same documents. "The person writing this statement does not understand the law in the state of California, it's done all the time."

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    Replies
    1. What is it about living in a democracy that causes you so much discomfort, 11:35? Is it the lack of uniforms?

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    2. Technically, the founding fathers created a Republic of independent states. The "democracy" you refer to is the real problem this great nation has been facing for decades. Giving all power and resources to the government in order to repress and exploit individuals and rob them of their god given rights, is the true meaning of democracy, going back to ancient Greece.

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  13. Of course it is legal to "request and obtain" documents. But that does not mean the city is required to turn over privileged and confidential documents. Certainly, it's counsel cannot do so without an express waiver by the client.

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    1. And of course anything involving legal issues would then become confidential.

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    2. "Privileged and Confidential" are defined by law and precedent, not an individual attorneys opinion or assertion.

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  14. 11:35: Next time you're involved in litigation, subpoena your opponent's attorney billing statements. After the laughter dies down, file a motion to compel the production of the billing statements. Let us know how much in sanctions the court orders you to pay your opponent.

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    1. We are:

      A) Not discussing a trial here

      B) Talking about a government agency

      Apples - Oranges!

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    2. Actually, you are talking about (C) legal advice - some advice involving litigation against the city, some advice concerning other legal issues.

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    3. This is not an issue of litigation, the firm is providing services to the public. The public is paying their bills. We have every right to view those records and understand how our money is being spent.

      Now certainly they (the city) has the right to redact sections of the billing statements which might jeopardize current litigation or convey a strategy being used in a particular case. But to redact large sections and simply assert some form of atty-client privilege won't fly under the law.

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    4. They are hiding something. Why? Fails the smell test. Internal briefs are one thing but billing is public record.

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    5. Those records may detail meetings with certain nefarious individuals outside of City Hall that Colantuono & Levin should never have been meeting with. They may very well be covering up conspiracy. If so, they have a lot to lose.

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  15. It looks like Ms. Aguilar is misinformed and overpaid as a City Manager. Does the City really need to pay over $160,000 for this position?

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    Replies
    1. Can there be any doubt that she has been obediently following the directives from the city attorneys?

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  16. Hmm. By 11:58's logic anytime you want to hide something in government all you have to do is have the individuals involved talk to the city atty.

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  17. So the "City" will not Disclose and a Forensic Audit is off the books.Wow,so much for participatory Democracy.Sounds like the perfect sanctuary for rogues and swindlers.

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  18. 12:09. There is always that risk 12:09, but generally the benefits of client confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege outweigh that risk. Or a least a hundred years of jurisprudence suggests so.

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  19. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Anyone got a clue about this?

    http://www.mccookgazette.com/blogs/hoag/entry/49095/

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  20. The flip side 12:09 is that you don't want to chill the city or an employee from seeking needed legal advice out of fear that the issue or advice will be disclosed. Avoiding legal advice could result in actions that violate the law and subject the city to lawsuits.

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  21. Anybody else think that somebody from C & L is with us today?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, which is good. It means somebody got hit right between the eyes. Trolls are a sign of pain.

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    2. No, not from C&L. Troll? The next time you have a disagreement with your significant other, don't use facts or logic. Just call him or her a troll and see how well that works!

      Suggestion: Ask all lawyers and law firms that respond to any SM Legal Services RFP whether they would disclose or advise disclosing all privileged and confidential city documents.

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    3. So 1:53, which law firm do you work for?

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    4. Nobody has said anything about "all privileged and confidential city documents." You are becoming tiresome.

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    5. 1:53 is an attorney at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe.

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    6. Lawyer = Liar

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  22. Well whoever you are, you're obviously knowledgeable about these matters. Could you try and advocate for the open government side? Just as an exercise? If you were trying to be on the side of people who want the government to be forthright about where they spend money, what would you suggest.

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    Replies
    1. I agree 2:17 that government should be as open as possible. The various open government laws should be strengthened, and violations of those laws should be dealt with strictly. The notions of complete transparency -- and even more, direct democracy -- while wonderful in the abstract and worth striving toward, would be ill-fated if not disastrous in reality.

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    2. Yeah, maybe direct democracy would be trouble. But it would certainly be better than what we have now.

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  23. I thought the public records request was to find the amount of"billed lunch hours" for attorney and city councl members from their yearly planning of the future of this town! you mean there really are some billed hours that can't be accounted for and that the city attorney has to hide along with the city manager any records of this; in order to make up for the short comings of being a good law firm? or maybe they inserted themselves where they should not have gone? Into the question of the law? Who's side is it "really" represent?

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  24. As posted by Anonymous August 21, 2012.

    Of course it is legal to "request and obtain" documents. "Under the California Records Request Law, this and more is avaliable for those who know and read the California law."

    But that does not mean the city is required to turn over privileged and confidential documents. "Now this is where the author is trying to mix apples and oranges, we are talking about records of payment, date and what account they were paid from."

    Certainly, it's councel cannot do so without an express waiver by the client. This statement is misleading, and incorrect as far as fees paid to a law firm etc. under contract to the city for services. The amount paid and law firm must be provided to the requester of such documents."

    I am suprised that your city clerk does not know the laws of the State of California that govern such action by the public concerning "Public Document Requests."

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    1. You can be surprised all you want, 4:26 pm. However, the request was handled by the City Manager according to the documents provided to the Tattler, not the City Clerk.

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  25. The law firm that serves the city is not trusted, so when they invoke secrecy as a defense of the city, they are not believed.

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  26. This was posted by Anonymous at 4:33 P.M.

    You can be surprised all you want, 4:26 pm. However, the request was handled by the City Manager according to the documents provided to the Tattler, not the City Clerk.

    "Then your City Manager is not aware of: You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of California's public records using the state's California Public Records Act (CPRA). See the text of the CPRA in sections 6250 and 6253 of the California Government Code (Cal. Gov't Code), which states that any individual, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, firm or association, both in and out of California, can inspect California public records.

    You are not required to explain why you are making a request. Don't worry the Superior Court in Pasadena, California can settle this for you, several local cities have tried what your city manager is trying and they have all lost."

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  27. What a great conversation this was today! People talking about their rights, and what it is they expect their city to provide them. Can you imagine this happening anywheres else but Sierra Madre?

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  28. Late in the day, but Patch has an update on the Hildreths' ongoing battle with the City. It's worth reading. Gotta give it to 'em for hanging in there.

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  29. You can't even get copies of the Community Services Commission minutes or the Library Board of Trustees meeting minutes without being harassed by the low level employees, who then treat your request like the minutes are state guarded secrets. They will immediately call the City Manager, who has demanded that anyone asking for any record, complete a Public Records Request. Then, the City Manager will make you wait for the records, sometimes for many days, even if they are benign records. And, she'll even request 6 cents from you for a copy of something that could have been emailed to you.

    Public records are destroyed by city employees ("Oh, we can't find those records..."), attempts to obtain copies of legal bills for large development projects are secret, and you can't get any Public Record Request fulfilled, because apparently, THE PEOPLE's business and tax payer dollars are off limits for us mere citizens.

    It's time for the people to rise up and revolt against any government entity determined to take the citizen out of the process.

    To quote Huey P. Newton - There's no reason for the establishment to fear me. But it has every right to fear the people collectively -- I am one with the people.

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