The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office ruled that Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina violated the Brown Act when she did not allow a resident to speak against Councilman Steven Placido in October.
The councilwoman violated California's open meeting law when resident Aide Zeller addressed Placido during a City Council meeting and Messina interrupted. "Because we are in an election cycle, your comments need to be directed to the chair," Messina said to Zeller. "You can speak to him after the meeting."
Zeller was a supporter of Placido's opponent in the city council election, immigration attorney Elizabeth Salinas, and had formed with her a group that opposed a Midwick Tract development.
In a letter to Alhambra City Council, Assistant Head Deputy of the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division Jennifer Lentz Snyder said that Messina should have let Zeller speak. "We therefore conclude that the restriction on Ms. Zeller's comments which were critical of a member of the Council, though cloaked in the premise of a procedural rule, amounted to a content-based restriction that violated the Brown Act," Snyder said.
No disciplinary action will be taken, as Snyder said in her letter that the D.A.'s office does not think the issue will happen again. City Council apologized for the incident during the subsequent city council meeting. "We all try our very best to abide by it and we take it very seriously but maybe this was a mistake she made and the city attorney apologized for it," Placido told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Messina told Alhambra Source she did not wish to comment.
Salinas — who ran and lost against Placido in November by just 556 votes — feels the Council owes more to Alhambra residents in light of its violation. "I think Aide deserves a formal, public apology, as does the entire city for that matter," Salinas told the Source. "I would have also appreciated a stronger sanction against Messina."
Salinas said that Messina's actions are part of a larger trend at Council meetings. "Messina and the rest of City Council abuse their power and censor people when they do not like what is being said, or they simply cut them off and tell them that their 5 minutes is up," Salinas said. "They oftentimes act like bullies on a playground and it's quite sad for our city to have officials that engage in such poor conduct. Then they wonder why attendance at the City Council meetings are so low."
When asked whether she thinks Messina's actions affected her race against Placido — who replaced Messina as mayor last Monday — Salinas was unsure: "I don't know and may never know, it could have since it was such a close race."