For all his mea culpas, it appears that San Luis Obispo City Councilman John Ashbaugh did not violate the Brown Act.
Did he act inappropriately?
Did he violate the law?
Not in the opinion of two First Amendment lawyers contacted by The Tribune. They point out that Ashbaugh did not divulge any information that was shared in closed session and, therefore, did not violate the Brown Act in comments he made during a regular City Council meeting last month.
Regardless of whether he broke the law, there’s little doubt that Ashbaugh crossed the line of good sense and civility when he publicly chided Councilman Dan Carpenter for his behavior during a closed session. Ashbaugh noted that Carpenter had seemed ill-prepared and did not ask any questions during the closed-door session that preceded the regular meeting.
That was out of line; council members should feel free to comment, question — or remain silent — during closed sessions, without having it come back to haunt them in a public meeting.
Ashbaugh agreed that he was wrong, and apologized profusely.
The reprimand delivered by the City Council on Monday should further reinforce the need to be circumspect when discussing closed sessions. It’s a good reminder not just for Ashbaugh, but for all public officials.