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PD Editorial: Mystery emails, facts, probes at Santa Rosa city hall

  • Santa Rosa City Council member Gary Wysocky has a verbal exchange with fellow member Scott Bartley during a meeting discussing the issue of camping permits for Occupy Santa Rosa, Thursday Nov. 10, 2011. At left is City Manager Kathy Millison. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

So why was Santa Rosa City Hall suddenly closed at noon on Oct. 29, and why was the City Council meeting that was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. canceled altogether?

More than three weeks later, that remains a mystery, along with a number of things concerning operations and communications within Santa Rosa government.

Residents were led to believe that this was the week that some of these things would start to come into focus, particularly in relation to the so-called muzzling of City Council members by City Attorney Caroline Fowler following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez on Oct. 22. But that was not to be. Rather, as a result of Tuesday's City Council meeting, things got more blurry. Among the developments:

; The City Council agreed to waive the attorney-client privilege protecting most emails between Fowler and council members regarding what they could or could not say following the Lopez shooting. But the council put off a discussion about what those emails said until the public was given notice.

; Meanwhile, the public learned that not all of the correspondence would be revealed because of a previously undisclosed internal investigation involving a private attorney whom the city attorney and City Manager Kathy Millison would not identify. Both Fowler and Millison said they could say nothing about it, even to their employer, the City Council.

;The public learned about this secret investigation after Councilman Gary Wysocky sought to make public an email exchange that he had with Fowler over the shooting. But he was told he could not do so because the outside attorney said it would violate attorney-client privilege.

All of this just raises more questions. Who requested this internal investigation, what is its focus and how much is it costing? And by what authority can the city staff keep the City Council in the dark? Moreover, how is it that an elected official who wants to release an email, considered a public record under state law, be prevented from doing so by an unnamed independent attorney?

Previously, Fowler had said she would be "happy" if the council waived the attorney-client privilege related to the advice she gave them. So whose privilege is being protected?

Meanwhile, all of this also does little to clarify our first question: Why was City Hall closed on Oct. 29?

The City Council disclosed the email that Fowler sent to council members about the cancellation. It begins: "In light of reports and the irresponsible actions of certain persons who have now endangered our city employees..." But when Wysocky asked for clarification on how city employees were endangered and what kind of "irresponsible actions" were involved, he was told that that was outside the scope of Tuesday night's discussion.


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