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Watchdog Group Launches Petition to Protect Brown Act

Californians Aware is asking voters to sign a petition that would protect key provisions of the Brown Act, the state's open-government law.

 

A Sacramento-based organization launched a petition drive Sunday to amend the California constitution to ensure that municipal meeting agendas continue to be provided to the public.

In June, the state Legislature gave California cities and counties the option of not posting meeting agendas and other reports to save money, for a three-year period. This action suspended a key provision of the Brown Act, which requires California cities, counties, school boards and special districts to conduct their meetings openly.

On Sunday, Californians Aware, a watchdog organization, launched a petition drive to place a proposition on the statewide ballot.

"Even though the law might not hold public officials accountable for no longer posting agendas or providing adequate descriptions of items on them, angry voters would hold them accountable, and political exposure has always been a far more powerful motivator of Brown Act compliance than legal exposure," stated Californians Aware on its website.

The law is in effect through the 2014-15 year. 

There is also a bill that would preserve the Brown Act provisions, but it remains in limbo in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after the state Senate passed it.

Leaders in many cities, including those in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, said last week that they expected their boards to continue to comply with the Brown Act, despite the state not requiring it for three years. 

The California League of Cities was expected to issue a statement last week but had urged members not to change compliance.

Los Altos City Council Member Ron Packard sent Patch a copy of a July 17 memo from the Brown Act Committee of the League of California Cities, which opined:

"Many cities today may likewise judge that the risks of non-compliance outweigh any benefits. The suspended provisions are central to the Act; noncompliance with those provisions would unquestionably degrade transparency. Further, notwithstanding the lack of legal consequences, noncompliance could provoke a hostile reaction from local constituents as well as suggest inaccurately that cities in general oppose open government. Adhering to all the requirements of the Brown Act will put cities in good steadwith an increasingly cynical public that still has a relatively high regard for city government due to to its accessibility and transparency..."

The League's eight-member Brown Act Committee also concluded that it believed that the legislature's action would suspend the following provisions:

  • Preparation and posting at least 72 hours before a regular meeting of an agenda that contains a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting. (See Gov. Code § 54954.2(a).)
  • Inclusion on the agenda of a brief general description of all items to be discussed in closed session. (See Gov. Code § 54954.2(a).)
  • Disclosure of each item to be discussed in closed session in an open meeting, prior to any closed session. (See Gov. Code § 54957.7 (a).)
  • Report in open session prior to adjournment on the actions and votes taken in closed session regarding certain subject matters. (See Gov. Code §§ 54957.1(a)(l)-(4), (6);54957.7 (b).)
  • Provide copies to the public of certain closed session documents. (See Gov. Code §54957.1 (b)-(c).)

"I think that the Los Altos residents expect a level of transparency that only can result from continued full compliance with the Brown Act," Packard wrote.

The legislature suspended some requirements of the Brown Act in 1990, and most cities said they would continue to comply, the committee memo said.

Read more about the CalAware petition to protect key provisions of the Brown Act at this link.

— Los Altos Patch Editor L.A Chung contributed to this report 

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