PLEASANT HILL -- A second resident has filed a complaint with the city alleging that three councilmen conspired to "rig the election" and deny former Vice Mayor Jack Weir the mayor's seat.
Dorothy Englund's complaint follows City Attorney Janet Coleson's refusal to investigate the Dec. 2 mayoral selection, during which councilmen Michael Harris, Ken Carlson and Tim Flaherty thwarted Weir's bid for the top post. Coleson has said she doesn't believe there is any evidence the men violated California's open meeting law.
In an eight-page letter dated Dec. 23, Englund painstakingly details what she describes as "evidence" the trio violated the Brown Act, which prohibits a majority of any legislative body from deliberating an issue or deciding how to vote outside of a properly noticed public meeting.
Even if the majority never met in person, or if they communicated in pairs to avoid forming a quorum, they could still be in violation of the law.
Harris, Carlson and Flaherty have denied forming an alliance to block Weir's nomination.
Englund, who is a friend of Weir, said she understands Coleson is in an awkward position having to evaluate the Brown Act claims since part of the city attorney's job is to defend the council members.
"I think she could at least acknowledge the public's concerns and maybe she should consult with the District Attorney's Office," Englund said.
Much of Englund's evidence is subjective. For example, she states that Harris, Carlson and Flaherty "appeared very serious, tense and uncomfortable" during the meeting and didn't seem surprised by the outcome of the vote. But she also points to the fact that the council didn't deliberate after the motion to nominate Weir failed, nor did Harris call for public comment.
"The best I can tell, I'm being taken to task because of my facial expression or lack of it. I don't even know how to respond to that without being insulting to the author," Flaherty said. "My role on the council is to listen and observe."
Englund also writes that since Harris has acknowledged that he asked Carlson if he would be willing to nominate someone for mayor, "we know at least two council members met outside of an open meeting and conspired to nominate and elect someone mayor, other than Mr. Weir."
Harris denied conspiring with Carlson and added, "I don't think there's any basis for the allegations that she's making."
To correct the alleged Brown Act violation, Englund requests that Flaherty resign the mayor's position or the council remove him; and that the council discuss the two complaints during a meeting next month.
"I'm not stepping down, I was voted in by a majority of the council," Flaherty said.
Harris agrees that Flaherty should remain as the duly elected mayor. Carlson did not return a call seeking comment.
The city has 30 days to respond to Englund. If she's not satisfied, Englund said she will forward the complaint to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.
The mayor in Pleasant Hill is primarily a ceremonial position; the duties include presiding over council meetings and setting the agenda.
Although passing over the vice mayor isn't unprecedented in Pleasant Hill, it has rarely been done. In 1990, the majority snubbed Vice Mayor Sherry Sterrett, whom they accused of being rude and bullying. Sterrett denied such behavior and maintained they rejected her because she opposed hiring a private attorney to handle a lawsuit against the county.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.