When it works, representative democracy is a two-way street. Elected officials should do what they believe is in the best interest of the community while we the people must do our part by staying informed and holding our representatives accountable.
Of course, we can only fulfill our duty as citizens if we know where our representatives stand on important issues, and the reasoning behind their stances. That’s what makes the Cypress City Council’s refusal to vote publicly on whether to maintain at-large elections so troubling.
After months of inaction followed by three public forums in which council members never openly expressed their views on the issue, the City Council abruptly voted to maintain at-large elections in a closed session on March 14, 2022.
Now, in addition to the threatened litigation over an alleged California Voting Rights Act violation, the City of Cypress received a demand letter from a nonprofit called Californians Aware alleging that the closed session vote violated the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Elected officials in neighboring cities who faced similar circumstances criticized both the City Council’s decision and the secret nature of the closed session vote, with Tustin’s former mayor and current council member Letitia Clark saying, “It’s absolutely the best practice to have the vote in open session. This is something that literally impacts every voter.”
To her credit, Council Member Frances Marquez has publicly shared the reasons behind her support for district elections at prior council meetings. But the City Council, as a whole, still has not voted publicly or explained their reasoning. One would think that if representatives have confidence in their decision, they would be willing, even eager, to share their views publicly.
Perhaps most disappointingly, the closed session vote came after the City Council actively sought input from members of the public. If council members are going to ask us to share our views on how elections should be conducted and why, they should extend us the same courtesy.
And regardless of whether the closed session vote violated the Brown Act or might be upheld by the right judge isn’t the issue. Being open about votes that affect the community is simply the right thing to do
Editor’s Note: David Burke is an attorney and the founder of Citizens Take Action, a Cypress nonprofit organization.