In May, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit began an investigation into Upland City Councilwoman Janice Elliott’s allegations that the city council engaged in Brown Acts violations. The Ralph M. Brown is California’s open public meeting law which requires that all official business of a governmental entity take place in public, with five exceptions – discussion relating to potential or ongoing lawsuits, real estate transactions, contract negotiations, employee discipline or firing, and employee public union collective bargaining. Elliott told the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office that on at least two occasions the members of the Upland City Council held a closed door meeting outside the scrutiny of the public where they engaged in a discussion of an issue or issues that the Brown Act prohibits them from discussing. Information about that investigation began to circulate by June and early last month others came forward with further information relating to the Upland City Council, in particular its newest member, Sid Robinson, some of which pertained to his relationship to Steve Lambert, who through his company, the 20/20 Network, has a contract with the City of Upland to provide public relations, communication, strategy formulation and crisis management services. Robinson, a public relations specialist himself with expertise in strategic communications, was a part of the 20/20 Network. Moreover, Lambert had been in attendance at two of the closed door meetings at which Elliott said the Brown Act violations occurred. Subsequent to Elliott’s May complaint to the district attorney’s office, as the resultant investigation was running its course, the Upland City Council acted to remove Elliott from her three most prestigious adjunct committee assignments, a move widely perceived as retaliation against her for having launched the Brown Act violation complaint. That move did not escape the attention of the investigators in the district attorneys office, who in short order dug up or were provided with documentation of the earlier referenced information pertaining to Robinson and the 20/20 Network. Contained in those materials was indication of a nexus between the circumstance involving Robinson, who from the outset of his time on the council routinely voted to approve the city’s payments to the 20/20 Network.
In its July 21 edition, after contacting Robinson for his version of events, the Sentinel reported on the ongoing investigation. Mentioned in that report were the city council, including Robinson and Elliott; city manager Martin Thouvenell; city attorney James Markman; assistant city manager/city clerk Jeannette Vagnozzi; the 20/20 Network, and Steve Lambert.
In short order, Robinson, Thouvenell and Lambert took umbrage at the article; and each have demanded retractions. Robinson maintains the article “makes numerous misstatements and false claims, fails to offer any verification of its sensational allegations and is clearly designed to harm my reputation.” Robinson said the article “implied or provided knowingly untrue information about my relationship with the 20/20 Network.”
Thouvenell said the article contains “malicious and inaccurate statements.”
Lambert stated that journalistic coverage of the investigation is irresponsible, misleading, false, damaging to his company’s reputation, defamatory and libelous. He maintains the Sentinel’s reporting upon the investigation and the background behind it was done “all without corroboration” and “The entire piece and its presentation are wildly speculative and conspiratorial.” The article, which Lambert said employed attributions of “false and malicious allegations to unnamed ‘others,’ and couche[d] some of its more damning allegations with conditionals,” linked Robinson to the 20/20 Network, which Lambert said was “unsupported by facts” and was “a clear defamatory distortion of the truth.”
Lambert took further issue with the article’s description of the April 24 and May 8 closed sessions of the Upland City Council during which the Brown Act violations under investigation by the district attorney’s office occurred, stating that the article “wrongly characterizes my involvement in closed sessions as alleged violations of the Brown Act.”
Beginning last week the Sentinel published three of eleven exhibits contained in the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit’s case file relating to the investigation of Sid Robinson that have been provided to the newspaper. The Sentinel this week is publishing another three of those exhibits. The Sentinel is doing so to assist its readership in assessing for itself whether the Sentinel’s reporting was “done without corroboration,” as Lambert put it and if, as Robinson said, whether the Sentinel has “fail[ed] to offer any verification of its sensational allegations.” These documents should also assist the Sentinel’s readership in ascertaining whether the Sentinel has mischaracterized the evidence, what issues were reported by the Upland city clerk and other city officials to have been discussed during the city council’s closed sessions, the degree to which the Sentinel engaged in “speculation” in undertaking its reporting of the investigation, as well as whether the Sentinel article in general and specific is loaded with “false and malicious allegations” which qualify, in Lambert’s words as “a clear defamatory distortion of the truth.”
While examining the individual investigative file exhibits separately or in installments of three may provide the casual reader with insufficient context upon which to make any type of judgment, the reader should be able to orient him or herself to the germane issues by finding a copy of the July 21 Sentinel and reading the article “Robinson Denies Upland’s Contract With His Affiliate Constitutes A Conflict” and the July 21 Sentinel which included Sid Robinson investigative file exhibits A, B and C, the minutes to the April 24, 2017 Upland City Council meeting, the agenda for the May 8, 2017 Upland City Council meeting and a document entitled In House Policies of the Upland City Council, which was discussed and signed by the Upland City Council members during the closed session of the May 8 meeting, respectively. All of these exhibits are illustrative of the substance that was at the basis of the original investigation into the Brown Act violations that ultimately, by extension, brought the circumstance involving councilman Sid Robinson and his relationship to the 20/20 Network into focus for the investigators.
Contained herein, on pages 6 and 7 are the relevant pages of exhibits D, E, and F, respectively, the minutes from the May 8 council meeting; the agenda for the June 12 meeting containing the agenda item to remove councilwoman Janice Elliott from three of her committee assignments; and the minutes of the June 12 meeting in which Elliott was in fact removed from those committee assignments.
Hereafter, the Sentinel will publish Exhibits G, H, I and J, respectively, Sid Robinson’s statements of economic interest showing his status as a “subcontractor” with the 20/20 Network; a narrative from Steve Lambert hailing Sid Robinson as having joined the 20/20 Network as one of its public relations professionals; the page from the minutes of the April 24 Upland City Council meeting in which Robinson was appointed by his council colleagues as the city’s representative to the Southern California Association of Governments; and a press release produced for the Southern California Association of Governments authored by Steve Lambert as part of the 20/20 Network’s contractual work for that entity.