South Lake Tahoe City Council members spar over DA report on alleged Brown Act violations
September 4, 2018
City Council appeared to favor moving past issues addressed in a letter from the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office, but only after an intense exchange among individual councilors Tuesday.
Some of the comments were closer to veiled finger pointing, while others were outright accusatory.
Nearly two weeks ago the DA submitted a two-page letter summarizing conclusions of an investigation into alleged Brown Act violations and other accusations raised by City Councilor Brooke Laine in a letter to local media outlets. She sent the letter a little more than a month after the city and former City Manager Nancy Kerry agreed to part ways.
The letter sparked a response from Mayor Wendy David, in which she asked the police chief to request an investigation by the district attorney.
That DA investigation concluded there "were a few possible Brown Act violations" but that the actions did not merit the filing of criminal charges.
The possible violations centered around the hiring of Municipal Resource Group, LLC, partner Mary Egan. She was hired in the fall of 2017 to conduct an "assessment of the City leadership effectiveness, the culture of the senior management team, succession planning status and related issues."
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Mayor Pro Tem Tom Davis started the comments by apologizing for his participation in the process. Noting he is the most senior member of City Council, Davis said "I should have been a little more assertive in this process…"
He called out Councilor Austin Sass, who served as mayor at the time Egan was retained, for allegedly putting self interest above the intent of council.
"I really was disappointed in you, Austin. From the fact that we gave you direction based on the information we had that was going to be conducted by Mary Egan, and somehow along the way your personal agenda permeated that process. And I trusted you to follow that process," Davis said. He offered no additional context for his remarks.
Davis then referenced reports in the now dormant LakeTahoeNews.net which stated that Sass' city issued cell phone was reportedly stolen. The matter concerned public records requests.
"It just got bizarre folks," Davis said.
Sass later told the Tribune that any insinuation he made his phone disappear is “way off base.”
In responding at Tuesday’s meeting, Sass noted he was not expecting Davis' remarks but said he shouldn't have been surprised given it is an election year — both Sass and Davis are on the ballot this fall along with David.
Sass said he was limited in how much he could say, given that most of the issues at hand were discussed in closed session.
However, he did criticize Laine's "unsubstantiated" opinion piece, adding that he hoped the DA's letter, and the lack of any criminal wrongdoing, would renew the public’s confidence in City Council. The report validates everything that David initially said in response to Laine's letter, Sass added.
Laine accused Sass of trying to pit council's two female members against one another. She said his comments were yet another "misstep."
She also repeated her claim that she attempted to raise her concerns with members of council and the city attorney prior to writing her opinion piece.
In owning up to her role in the matter, Laine also directed criticism at then city attorney Nira Doherty, stating that she failed to properly advise council.
Councilor Jason Collin said he wasn't sure what to make of Laine's comments — on one hand she called for council to move on, and on the other hand she lobbed criticism at fellow members of council.
Collin also criticized Laine for her opinion piece and making what he described as "unfounded" allegations. He added his frustration that council was dwelling on the issue and not addressing more meaningful work.
David spoke last during council's comments, and she kept her remarks brief. Up until Tuesday she had not talked publicly about the DA's report. After the DA’s letter became public, the Tribune repeatedly tried to ask David a series of questions, including if city residents should have faith in City Council's ability to properly conduct business, and if further investigation was warranted.
"As Mayor, I am foremost focused on the future health of our city and on the many topics that need our full attention such as VHRs, our new cannibus regulations, our budget, our roads, the recreation center, our fleet needs and housing solutions to name a few," she wrote in an email.
Speaking Tuesday, David said she thought the DA's letter was fair, and that council had cured any possible violations.
"I hope this discussion can be a discussion that closes this door," she said, drawing apparent agreement from fellow members of council.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comment from Austin Sass and clarification that his iPhone was reported stolen.