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Committee wants to review complaint process Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Feb 26 2011 12:00 PM

At an ad hoc meeting for the Chula Vista Ethics Committee last Thursday, board members proposed changing procedures for reviewing ethics complaints.

Specifically, the committee decided to review the process related to the receipt of ethics complaints, notice to various parties and an initial review by the board of ethics.

The proposal was made after Chula Vista resident Jerry Thomas said the current process for handling complaints is unfair.

Thomas said his concern revolves around the subject's right to face the accuser and was based on a complaint filed last month against Chula Vista City Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar. The complaint, which alleged Aguilar was making decisions within her best interest, was dismissed Jan. 19.

Deputy City Attorney Simon Silva said the Sixth Amendment right to confront one's accuser applies only to criminal cases and that non-criminal circumstances are found under the due process clause. Silva also said there is currently no requirement that a complainant must be present for meetings.

Thomas said the current process does not provide justice.

"There's nothing worse than being falsely accused of something and then having something come out like this." Thomas held up a copy of the Union-Tribune's January article on the complaint against Aguilar. Thomas said the headline and reporting was misleading.

Currently, a person can submit complaints while hiding behind anonymity, Silva said.

Under existing municipal code language, the complainant's name cannot be legally released "until and unless it is determined that probable cause for such complaint exists."

Silva agreed that a competing interest has the potential for abuse. However, he also said that disclosing a complainant's name has the potential to cause what's called a "chilling effect," where people don't file complaints for fear they may be retaliated against.

Silva and board member Felicia Starr said a way for the board to address that concern is to look at what other cities are doing with regard to disclosure of complainant names.

Silva created three drafts of proposed language for the committee's consideration: One version with the complainant's name disclosed, a version with the complainant's name and subject's names withheld and a version with the current language, redacting only the complainant's name.

Silva said he hopes to have all the amendments to the City Council by summer.

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