Brown Act Exemption for Local Government Hits a Wall in the Legislature

Should city councils, boards of supervisors and other local elected bodies be able to hold close-door meetings with the governor? To do so would require an exemption under the Brown Act and therefore a legislative fix. The LA County Board of Supervisors has been pushing for such a change in the Legislature after it recently got caught red-handed in violation of the open-meetings law earlier this year when it held a closed-door meeting with the governor to discuss realignment. The board was subsequently sued by the nonprofit watchdog organization Californians Aware. At the time, supervisors claimed the meeting needed to be closed to the public due to public safety concerns, but a Deputy District attorney dismissed the validity of that claim.

While the board settled the lawsuit, it continued to pursue a legislative fix under AB 1736. As legislators wrap up session this week, there is an update on the status of the bill. While it was already passed by the Assembly, AB 1736 did not find enough support in the state Senate. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar commented, “I see no reason why we need to create another loophole to circumvent California open-meeting laws.” However, there was also a motion to reconsider the bill and the reconsideration was granted on a 38-0 vote.

The LA Times reports: “AB 1736 failed on a 16-19 vote but may come up for reconsideration in the Senate. It would add the governor to a long list of public officials who may meet in closed session with boards of supervisors to discuss a threat to the security of essential public services. The list already includes the state attorney general, sheriff, chief of police and security consultants.”

Speaking of the Brown Act, the LA Times has penned an editorial arguing that local governments should no longer be reimbursed for posting agendas because it is not a huge burden whereas supervising nonviolent felons, for example, is a responsibility that is far more deserving of funding. Thanks to technology, the Times argues that it should be a simple task to post an agenda and that “keeping citizens informed of their governments' actions is so fundamental that no municipality or district has any business operating if it can't meet that obligation on its own time and within its own budget.” The editorial draws attention to the fact that since staffs have to prepare detailed agendas for elected officials anyways, then it should not be much more work to simply make the material available to the public, especially when the reports are prepared on the taxpayers dime. Read the full editorial here.

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