The City of San Fernando has had it’s share of scandal brought on by salacious behavior among council members, that were later recalled, but for the first time in the city’s history, on Monday, Sept. 21, council members voted to file a complaint, seek an injunction and turn the actions of a fellow council member over to the L.A. County District Attorney’s office and the L.A. County Civil grand Jury.
By a vote of 4-0, the council voted to report the violations of the Brown Act allegedly committed by Councilman Jaime Soto.
In an email, Soto leaked confidential information held in closed session on Sept. 8, with council members, the city attorney and city administrators that discussed employees and labor negotiations. The email was sent from Soto not only to the City Manager and City Clerk, but he also sent it out to SEIU representative Rene Anderson at the same time, which the city contends is a clear violation of the Brown Act.
City hall officials told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that Soto during his brief tenure at city hall, “has thrown his weight around city hall,” however, they were stunned that he would blatantly provide confidential information related to employees and labor negotiations and would put the city at risk and that he would document the[alleged] violation with an emailed paper trail.
The following week, another closed door meeting was called to discuss the Brown Act violation and when Soto appeared. he was told by the city attorney Richard Padilla that he could not be part of the discussion,but Soto refused to leave and attempted to tape record the private conversation. After he was told that he did not have permission to tape record, according to those in attendance, Soto, “held the device in his hands throughout the exchange and appeared to engage the device at various times during the closed door proceedings,” so the meeting was forced to quickly adjourn
Soto is the brother of Mimi Soto, a former SEIU representative for the City of San Fernando.
“It appears that you aren’t representing the residents but you are working for the union,” Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin told Soto, during Monday’s council meeting.
City officials decided to discuss the delicate matter in open session during Monday’s council meeting after Soto’s refusal to abide by the advice provided by city attorneys to recuse himself from the closed door session to discuss his violation.
At the meeting, Mayor Joel Fajardo, advocated for Soto to sign a letter promising not to violate the Brown Act or tape record confidential meetings insteadf of taking legal action, Soto refused the offer. “I can’t make a statement like that,” he responded. Residents attending the council meeting gasped.
City attorney Richard Padilla told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the city council acts as a complete body “not as an individual and no one council member has the right to make a decision about what can be disclosed from closed sessions.” “It’s no joke,” said Padilla, “it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and bad will and ultimately impacts the city and the taxpayers who pay for the city [and possible litigation.]”
Padilla points out, the whole purpose of closed session when the city is dealing with bargaining units is to discuss negotiations and strategy and leaking information obviously puts the city at a disadvantage.
“The law recognizes the city has a right to meet with its attorneys without having information disclosed. To disclose information increases the potential for the city’s liability.” Padilla said. “As an officer of the city, he [Soto] has to discharge his duties in a fair and unbiased way.”
Councilman Antonio Lopez has previously admonished Soto for engaging in divisive scare tactics among residents. During a council discussion on El Niño, Soto painted a bleak picture noting the city’s sewer system and the potential threat for a “biohazard.” During previous meetings he spoke of tree removal causing the “Fall of the Roman Empire,” and the city’s water system being vulnerable to Al-Qaeda.
When Soto was first elected to the city council, the city attorney requested that the city schedule a training session for him for Brown Act and AB1234, mandatory ethics training. The city contacted Soto last April but Soto failed to take his training. According to city officials, a weekly reminder has been sent to Soto since April. At last Monday’s meeting, Soto said he would schedule the training for October.