Allegations of Brown Act violations arose after the Menlo Park City Council elected Kelly Fergusson as mayor on Tuesday (Dec. 7).
Fergusson held one-on-one discussions with at least three council members about becoming mayor. The state's open meeting law, known as the Brown Act, prohibits elected officials from conducting a series of one-on-one meetings with each other without public notice "if done to develop a collective concurrence as to action."
The Brown Act applies to current and newly elected council members, regardless of whether they have yet been sworn into office, according to First Amendment and open records expert Terry Francke.
Council members Rich Cline and Peter Ohtaki confirmed the discussions with Fergusson. Former member Heyward Robinson said he'd also met with her, but that conversation did not violate the Brown Act since he would no longer be on the council by the time the vote for mayor was taken.
"Kelly and I did discuss the upcoming mayoral vote, and I did expressly tell her I was planning to follow the protocol. I had no interaction with other electeds," Cline said.
Ohtaki said he was unaware that Fergusson had met with more than one council member. "It's not my intention to put her in an awkward position," he said. "She called and asked to meet."
Now chosen twice as mayor, Fergusson has served on the council since 2004.
In an interview, she refused to answer questions about the meetings, saying, after a long pause, "You know ... I'm going to refer you to (city attorney) Bill McClure."
She said she hadn't discussed the meetings with the city attorney, and that it was a great honor to have been selected mayor. "I'm really looking forward to working with the whole council for the betterment of Menlo Park."
The tete-a-tete with Ohtaki failed to earn his support. He nominated Councilman Andy Cohen for mayor instead, based on Cohen's support for Measure L, the pension reform initiative, and overall fiscal responsibility.
But despite statements to the contrary -- "I didn't campaign for this position," Cohen told the audience on Tuesday night before the vote -- he had asked the council and incoming members Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki for the job in a memo mailed last month that outlined his qualifications to be mayor.
Cohen has yet to respond to the Almanac's request for comment, as has City Attorney Bill McClure.
The Almanac will continue updating this story as more information becomes available.