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Council may limit interaction between government officials and 'known crooks'

January 16, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Community activist Barry Allen talks to the Glendale City Council during an oral communications session. (File photo)
Community activist Barry Allen talks to the Glendale…

Glendale leaders are set to review a proposal to place restrictions on who government officials can talk to on city time, a move 1st Amendment advocates say raises serious free speech concerns.

The call for tighter controls has its roots in a long-simmering tiff between the City Council and some of its regular commentators. The tension increased last week when a group of residents alleged Barry Allen, who some call a gadfly and others a city watchdog, had been convicted of running a counterfeiting operation in the mid 1980s.

Allen — who acknowledged the charge, but claimed he was working undercover for a federal agency — often criticizes city leaders and holds weekly forums to discuss municipal finances, water-rate increases and other issues. He’s used his weekly newsletter to traffic in gossip and to air officials’ dirty laundry, some true, some off-base.

The revelation surprised city leaders and prompted Councilman Ara Najarian to ask staff at the council meeting if there was a way to bar officials from talking to Allen, his Vanguardian group, or others connected to criminal activities.

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“A few weeks ago I sarcastically congratulated some of our department heads and a captain of our police force for attending and hosting or being the keynote speaker at one of Barry Allen’s forums,” Najarian said. “I find that to be a huge problem and at this point forward a dereliction of the duty of the City Council to have this continue.”

City Attorney Mike Garcia said he will be working with the City Manager’s office to draft a report on the proposal. The report would be discussed at a future council meeting, but there is no set date.

“Translating the desire to avoid talking to ‘known crooks’ into viable, constitutionally sound policy is probably impossible,” said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, an open government advocacy group.

Francke said the council does have the authority to set policy on the use of employees’ time, but the issue at hand may not be known criminals..

“Most people would probably agree that the government's biggest problems do not trace to ‘known’ crooks, but to those unknown, both outside and inside city hall,” he said.

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