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Newport Beach City Council Engages in War of Words Over Meeting Minutes

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A lively debate broke out less than 10 minutes into the regular Newport Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27, this time about a normally routine item: the minutes of the last council meeting.

Mentions of drug use, flying unicorns and Elvis were all made during the discussion, which focused on a motion and vote in approval of a plan using wood in the fire rings during the Jan. 13 meeting.

At the previous meeting, the council voted 5-2, with Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon and Councilman Keith Curry dissenting, to revert 30 rings, half at Big Corona and half at the Balboa Pier, immediately back to wood burning.

After hearing a few public speakers oppose the wording of the minutes from that meeting, specifically the motion made by Councilman Scott Peotter regarding the fire rings, Curry pulled the item from the consent calendar.

“The minutes do not accurately reflect the action that was taken by the council or the motion that was made by Council member Peotter,” Curry said.

The minutes describe a substantially expanded version of the motion, he noted.

No permanent plan was approved by the council at the last meeting, he argued.

The city clerk is required to keep a “full and true” record of all council proceedings, he explained.

The minutes do not accurately or truthfully reflect the motion that was made at the meeting, Curry said.

“The minutes are not an exercise in fiction writing, they’re not a vehicle to put words into the mouths of the inarticulate, they are not a means to fix, by our own judgment or by staff’s judgment, what a speaker or motion maker would have said if he had been thinking about it more clearly and wanted to be more comprehensive,” Curry said, “and they are not a means to expand or extend the authority of the actions taken after the fact in private outside meetings away from this council.”

It’s not a scandal, countered Councilman Kevin Muldoon, it is, if anything, semantics.

There is a policy that states that “the city council determines what happened at the meeting and what the minutes reflect,” said city attorney Aaron Harp.

“So if I suggested, Mr. Harp, that a unicorn flew in the chambers and circled around followed by Elvis, would that be ok in the minutes?” asked Councilman Tony Petros.

“If you can get four votes,” Harp replied.

Petros strongly disagreed with the way the minutes were written.

“I sat right here and heard the motion,” Petros said, which was simply the 30-ring alternative. “That’s why I supported it… That was the only thing I could support.”

There was never a discussion or a CEQA determination made on a permanent plan, Petros said.

If the city or a council member wants to pursue a 60-ring plan, it needs to go through the proper process.

“The city is on a very slippery slope,” Petros said. “We have already violated numerous policies of our own housekeeping, numerous policies, by this action.”

This is not about fire rings, Curry added, it’s about the integrity of the city’s process and the council. This was echoed by several public speakers.

The temporary plan is the only thing that was approved by city council at the last meeting, Curry argued and moved that the minutes to be amended accordingly.

The motion to amend the minutes failed 4-3, with only Petros, Curry, and Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon supporting the change.

Peotter then moved to approve the minutes as they were originally written.

Petros again objected.

“This is surreal. This is like a bad drug trip,” Petros said. “I don’t understand how one could conceive from that 15-minute clip that this is what we did.”

“This is beyond me,” Petros concluded.

Curry agreed, saying he has never seen the integrity of the process compromised as much as this.

Being able to “make up anything after the fact and stick it in there” is “absurd” and “unfathomable,” Curry said.

Muldoon stood his ground.

“We talked about it at length, we discussed the city options, we’re following the law and there is no mistrust here,” Muldoon countered. “There’s no scandal. It’s almost insulting to suggest there is a scandal.”

It was a clear conversation about the options, he added.

The minutes, as originally written, were eventually approved 5-2, with Curry and Petros dissenting.

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