By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

The Crescent City Council will release a confidential memorandum written in 1992 that city staff say explains the genesis of improper benefits council members received for nearly 15 years.

Council members made this decision at Monday's meeting after the public urged the city to be transparent about the benefits. The council also approved a city ordinance designed to limit transient camping within city limits.

City Manager Eli Naffah said a 12-page report, written by the city's attorney in 1992, explains the legality of council members' benefits that a San Francisco law firm recently found to be in violation of California government codes.

"In that 12-page memo he did thorough research (into the creation of council benefits)," Naffah said, adding that an outside law firm that found these benefits to be improper also had this memorandum when it came to its decision. "Unfortunately, the firm who did the report never contacted him.

"This was extensive research that was done to ensure that it was done legally - and it was done legally."

Initially the council did not want to release the report because many of them had not read it yet. But when members of the public asked the council to be open about the benefits, council members changed their collective decision.

"I think we're looking at two things here," local businessman Aaron Funk told the council. "We're looking at facts and we're looking at process ... The facts will prevail. I think you should be more concerned with process."

He asked the council to be forthright with the public and to release the confidential memorandum before council members had a chance to read the document and potentially omit information.

"If you want to read that first there's only one reason you want to do that," Funk said, calling it a form of damage control. "You're going to lose more voter confidence if you don't have immediate and continuos transparency."

Leslie Barnes also addressed the council, saying that she and the rest of the public should know about the benefits.

"We're taxpayers, and we would like to know what has happened," Barnes said.

The council did not say when it would release the confidential memorandum, and plans to revisit the benefits at its next meeting.

In addition, the council passed a resolution that aims to eliminate transient campers within the city's limits.

"We have been receiving multiple problems with transient campers ... within city limits," Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack said.

He said his department has received numerous complaints about the homeless and transient population panhandling, drinking alcohol, littering and leaving their "unsightly" personal belongings on the city streets.

"This has been taking up a lot of the police department's time," Plack said. "If we had this ordinance, we would have the ability to arrest these people."

The ordinance is written to prevent camping on public lands, streets and private property without consent. The intent is also to stop people from leaving their camping materials or personal belongings in these areas.

Enforcement of this ordinance would be on a complaint basis only, Plack said, and that police officers would not roam the streets seeking transient campers.

Violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. However, the ordinance states the district attorney or city attorney can prosecute violations as infractions with first offense being $100, second offense as $200 and $500 for each subsequent violation.

The camping ordinance will not be in effect until August 1.

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