Friday, January 15, 2010

Brown Act Excitement


"""""Q: If 3 out of 5 school board members meet at a restaurant with a teacher or administrator for a few minutes until they noticed that I was also at the restaurant with my wife, have they violated Brown’s Act?

A: Depending on exactly what transpired, the episode you describe could be a violation the Brown Act. The Brown Act “serves to facilitate public participation in all phases of local government decision-making and to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation of public bodies.” Epstein v. Hollywood Entertainment Dist. II Business Improvement Dist., 87 Cal.App.4th 862, 868 (2001).

The main purpose of the Brown Act is therefore to require the local governing bodies to conduct their deliberations and make their decisions in public, as well as give the public notice of any such meetings. Cal. Gov’t Code section 54950, 54954.2(a). The Act covers “legislative bodies,” which include commissions, committees, boards or other bodies of a local agency, “whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body.” Gov’t Code section 54952(b). Public school boards are covered by the Brown Act, so the question is whether there has been any gathering of the members of the school board that constitutes a “meeting” that is subject to the Brown Act.

Under the Brown Act, a “meeting” includes any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body at the same time and place to hear, discuss or deliberate upon any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body or the local agency to which it pertains. Gov’t Code section 54952.2(a). Therefore, if a majority of school board members met (at a restaurant or elsewhere) to discuss school business, and did not properly notice the meeting (72 hours in advance of a regular meeting, 24 hours in advance of a “special” meeting, Gov’t Code section 54954.2(a), 54956), then that meeting was held in violation of the Brown Act. On the other hand, there is nothing that would prevent school board members from meeting at a restaurant to simply have a nice meal together, so long as no school board business is discussed......."

However mundane or bureaucratic the Brown Act, Prop 59, and similar open government regs may appear to some in Consumerland, the Brown Act upholds transparency at an institutional level and thereby affirms rational democracy, even of a progressive or Rawlsian sort. Enforcing the BA however remains an issue. Brown Act violations go down every day around El Lay--not only at the level of elected politicians, but at school districts, court chambers, police stations. What a Judge or DA or sheriff says in chambers about someone you know being charged with a serious crime should also be on record. Were it applied correctly and consistently, the B.A. could conceivably prevent misdoings and shady deals closed by the proverbial "secret handshake"--no wonder it's hated by Demopublican insiders, whether those of the GOP-Nixonian rat sort, or PC-Demo unionist appaRatchik.

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