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Councilman's action 'calls for concern'

He contacted planning commissioners before a vote, which had some questioning if Brown Act had been violated.

February 02, 2011|By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

Councilman Keith Bohr contacted four of seven city planning commissioners before they voted on an issue affecting a business, customers and residents in downtown Huntington Beach.

His action has raised questions among some city officials on whether it violated open meeting laws, which prohibit the majority of an elected or appointed board from speaking privately, and without proper notice, about issues affecting the public.

Bohr had a conversation with Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Delgleize and members Elizabeth Shier Burnett, Erik Peterson and Timothy Ryan — the majority of the commission — before they voted Jan. 25 on whether Bomburger Restaurant should be allowed to serve beer and wine.

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When the four commissioners said during the meeting that they spoke with Bohr, Commissioner Blair Farley asked if that posed any legal issues. But Deputy City Attorney Michael Vigliotta said the meeting could proceed.

Contacted by phone, Bohr refused to comment, demanding that questions be sent to him in writing.

Bohr was sent an e-mail, but did not reply with answers on why he spoke with four of the commissioners. He said there was "too much presumption" and apparent misunderstanding of the Brown Act, California's open meetings laws, in the questions.

"I will pass on any comments for this request," he said. "However, should that action be appealed to the City Council, I will gladly go on the record to explain my concerns about the staff report the Planning Commission received."

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said she spoke with three of the commissioners and determined that the Brown Act was not violated because there was no exchange of information on how they planned to vote on Bomburger's request.

But it is cause for concern, McGrath said.

"It does risk the potential of a Brown Act violation," she said. "It certainly calls for concern."

McGrath said she plans to hold a Brown Act training session for the new planning commissioners.

Ultimately, the commission voted against allowing Bomburger to serve beer and wine with its burgers. However, three of the four commissioners who spoke with Bohr wanted to allow Bomburger to serve alcohol and voted against denying the permit.

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