Antioch Mayor Thorpe, councilwomen violated state law, city codes, rules during Friday redistricting meeting

Mayor Thorpe attempts to stop Councilwoman Ogorchock from speaking at the end of the council’s special Friday meeting. Source: Screenshot of City of Antioch council meeting video.

Were supposed to first adopt a motion to reconsider map or rescind previous motion

“A motion to adjourn shall be in order at any time, except as follows: (A) When made as an interruption of a member speaking.” – Antioch City Code

By Allen D. Payton

At the end of their special Antioch City Council meeting on redistricting late Friday afternoon, March 11, 2022, while District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock was attempting to speak, Mayor Lamar Thorpe violated city ordinance and Robert’s Rules of Order by allowing a motion to adjourn to be made, seconded and voted on. In addition, both Thorpe violated the state’s Brown Act open meeting law when he allowed District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker to respond to comments by those in attendance who spoke on the redistricting maps item, and she violated it as well, by doing so. That’s according to both the Antioch City Code and former Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen.

While Thorpe wouldn’t allow Ogorchock unlimited time to speak, he did allow her three minutes “like any other member of the public” pointing out that the item on the agenda was Public Comments. Ogorchock began to speak, but Thorpe wouldn’t allow her to continue and instead allowed the illegal motion to occur.

Following Thorpe’s lead in asking for a motion to adjourn, Torres-Walker made the motion and District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson seconded it. The motion then passed 3-2 with Ogorchock and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica voting no. (See related article)

As previously reported, during the discussion on her motion to approve Draft Map A – Modified, Torres-Walker chastised and lectured those in attendance who spoke during public comments for using the terms “ignorance” and “circus” because she claims they are racist toward Black people. She also complained about people being critical of her leadership and that of Thorpe and Wilson, because they happen to be Black.

Antioch City Code Prevents Making Motions to Adjourn to Interrupt a Council Member Speaking

Thorpe and the two councilwomen violated the Antioch City Code by making and voting on the motion to adjourn interrupting Ogorchock while she was speaking. In Section 2-1.106  MOTIONS TO ADJOURN, it reads “A motion to adjourn shall be in order at any time, except as follows: (A) When made as an interruption of a member speaking.”

Former City Clerk Simonsen Says Brown Act, Robert’s Rules of Order Were Violated

Referring to Torres-Walker’s comments, Simonsen was asked if it is council policy and/or rules that council members are not allowed to respond to or engage with members of the public who speak during the meetings. He was also asked, if council members are allowed to speak ad infinitum on a matter not on the agenda or part of a motion during the discussion of that motion.

Simonsen responded, “The Brown Act does not permit council members to respond to speakers during Public Comments (anything not on the agenda). On an agenda item, the council members are to only speak to that agenda item, and it is the mayor who is responsible for getting them back on track. Also, as you know, there are no time limits on a council member speaking once they have been recognized to speak. And once a motion has been made and seconded, council members can speak on the motion or even make a substitute motion.”

Simonsen was also asked if it is also in Robert’s Rules of Order that a motion cannot be made while another council member has the floor.

“When a council member has been recognized to speak, they cannot be interrupted by another council member who wants to make a motion,” he responded. “As City Clerk, the City Attorney deferred to me, as I knew Roberts Rules better than them.

“Lori could have asked for a ‘Point of Privilege’ and been allowed to speak for as long as she liked,” he added. “It is permitted under Robert’s Rules.”

Similar Questions for City Attorney, Clerk and Council Go Unanswered

The following questions were emailed to City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith, City Clerk Ellie Householder and the five council members late Monday afternoon: “Isn’t it in the Brown Act and council policy that council members are not allowed to respond to or engage with members of the public who speak during the meetings? Also, aren’t council members precluded from speak ad infinitum on a matter not on the agenda or as part of a motion during the discussion of that motion? Isn’t it also in Robert’s Rules of Order that no motion can be made while another council member has the floor? Also, once a council member has the floor and been recognized to speak doesn’t the Brown Act allow them to speak for an unlimited amount of time? Finally, who is the parliamentarian for the council, the city attorney or city clerk?”

No on responded as of Wednesday at 1:00 PM.

Additional Questions on Procedure for City Attorney, City Clerk Go Unanswered

Smith and Householder were emailed questions early Saturday evening asking if the council violated Robert’s Rules of Order during their special meeting on Friday since no motion for reconsideration was made and vote taken prior to the motion to adopt a different map than was already adopted at Tuesday night’s meeting? Isn’t that required for a member of the majority in the previous vote? If so, does the council need to hold another meeting for a final, final vote on a final redistricting map? If not, why not?”

Additional attempts to reach Smith and Householder by phone Tuesday morning were also unsuccessful and no responses were received from them as of Wednesday at 1:00 PM.

Simonsen Says Council Violated Rules by Not First Adopting Motion for Reconsideration

The same additional questions were sent to Simonsen early Monday evening. He responded Tuesday morning with, “A motion for reconsideration actually needs to be made the night that the motion passed. The only other way possible is to put on the special meeting agenda two items: The first would be to rescind the previous resolution, and the second would be a new resolution with what was originally wanted by Walker. The City Attorney should have known this.”

“Since Robert’s Rules are in the Municipal Code by Ordinance, it has to be followed,” Simonsen added.

Questions for First Amendment Coalition

Similar questions were asked Tuesday morning of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), which is, according to their website “an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to advancing free speech, open government and public participation in civic affairs.”

Monica Price, Legal Fellow with FAC responded Wednesday morning with the following:

Brown Act Only Allows Council Members to Briefly Respond to Members of the Public Who Speak During Meetings

Under Government Code section 54954.2(a)(3), members of a legislative body or staff can briefly respond to statements or questions by members of the public attending the meeting. In addition, they can: (1) Ask a question for clarification, make a brief announcement or make a brief report on their own activities; (2) refer an issue to staff for factual information; (3) request staff to report back to the body at a subsequent meeting concerning any matter; or (4) take action to direct staff to place a matter of business on a future agenda.

In general, a legislative body cannot take action on any item that is not on the agenda for a meeting under Government Code section 54954.2(a)(3). There are exceptions for brief responses to questions, emergencies, and continued items. While I was unable to find a provision in the Brown Act that prohibits council members from speaking about an item not on the agenda, their internal rules for decorum might. (See Simonsen’s response above).

Not Aware if Brown Act Allows Council Members to Speak for an Unlimited Amount of Time

The Brown Act is intended to provide public access to meetings of California local government agencies.  The goal is public access, not necessarily setting rules for how members of public bodies interact with each other.  I’m not aware of any provision in the Brown Act that governs council members speaking and for how long.  This would likely be in the Antioch City Code or the Council’s internal rules. (See Simonsen’s response, above).

Not Sure Who is the Parliamentarian for the Council, City Attorney or City Clerk

I wasn’t able to determine who the parliamentarian is based on the Antioch City Code.  If the City Clerk is sitting at the meetings moving things along, I suspect that they are the “Parliamentarian.”  The City Attorney is there to advise the board on substantive legal issues (court cases, statutes and ordinances) related to the meeting and to ensure that they are complying with the Brown Act at public meetings, so I do not think that they would be the “Parliamentarian” as the City Attorney has a different purpose.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

the attachments to this post:

Antioch Council mtg 031122

No Comments so far.

Leave a Reply