Before Berkeley and UC signed a deal making settlement negotiations secret, Mayor Tom Bates sought a confidentiality agreement with the UC Berkeley Chancellor.
In a March 14 letter obtained by the Daily Planet, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau rejected Bates’ suggestion that the two sign an agreement to “engage in private confidential discussions.”
Mayor Bates said that he and Birgeneau had had productive discussions before the city filed suit against the university and that he thought additional talks could break the stalemate.
“I wanted to continue those discussions because I thought we were making progress,” he said. Bates added that he sought the confidentiality agreement to make sure that UC could not use anything said at the meeting during a trial.
In rejecting the offer, Birgeneau wrote that the two sides should conduct negotiations, “only through the formal mandatory settlement conference, and not through personal side meetings.”
The chancellor elaborated on his rationale for rejecting the secret talks at a Wednesday press conference. “These types of negotiations have to be done properly,” he said. “They can’t be done anecdotally between the mayor and myself.”
Soon after Birgeneau rejected Bates’ request, the two sides agreed to a more expansive confidentiality agreement that prevented residents from viewing the deal until both sides approved it.
The agreement, signed by attorneys for both sides, has drawn heat from councilmembers, who said they never formally voted to approve it.
Although Bates wanted to have private talks with the chancellor, he said he understood that any confidentiality agreement the city entered into would not preclude publicizing the proposed settlement.
Last week, the university rejected a request from the mayor and City Council to waive the agreement so residents could preview the deal.
Birgeneau said Wednesday that the Regents wouldn’t permit the university to disclose the terms before it approved the settlement.
Neighborhood activists, angry that they couldn’t view or comment on the deal before it was approved, are now challenging it in court. Today (Friday) a superior court judge will hear a petition to intervene filed by Berkeley resident Carl Friberg.
“I feel we have the constitutional right for citizens to review any agreement made on our behalf by the city,” Friberg said. “That’s what the mayor promised and that’s what we’re asking for.”
Friberg maintained that because the city didn’t give residents input into the decision making process, they should be added as a third party to the city’s lawsuit against the university.
If the judge grants Friberg’s petition, the settlement agreement would be put on hold.
Meanwhile Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who opposed the settlement agreement, said he was preparing a proposal to prevent the city from not disclosing similar settlement agreements, before the council approves them.
“I think it is reprehensible that some attorney succeeded in keeping the public from having one second of comment before this was a done deal,” he said.