Except in certain limited circumstances, the Brown Act requires that all deliberative processes by legislative bodies, including discussion, debate and acquisition of information, be open and available for public scrutiny. (Sacramento Newspaper Guild v. Sacramento Co. Bd. Of Supervisors (1968) 263 Cal.App.2d 41.)
Applicability to Task Force
The Brown Act covers “legislative bodies” of “local agencies.” Local agencies include all cities, counties, school districts, municipal corporations, special districts and all other local public bodies. (Government Code Section 54951)
A “legislative body” includes: 1) the governing body of the local agency (e.g., the County Board of Supervisors); and 2) a commission, committee, board or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution or formal action of a legislative body.
Since the Task Force is an advisory committee created by the formal action of the Board of Supervisors, the Task Force is subject to the Brown Act. (Government Code Section 54952)
What is a “Meeting”
A meeting is any congregation of a majority of the members of the public body (e.g., 11 or more Task Force members) at the same time and place to hear, discuss <u>or</u> deliberate upon any item which is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the public body.
What is a “Serial Meeting”
The Brown Act prohibits serial meetings. A serial meeting is a series of communications, each of which involves less than a quorum of the legislative body, but which taken as a whole involves a majority of the body’s members. (Government Code Section 54952.2(b))
Example: Task Force Member A emails Task Force Members B, C, D, E and F to discuss an item of Task Force business. Task Force Member A then meets with Task Force Members G, H, I, J, and K to discuss the same item of business. This is a serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act if a majority of the Task Force members are having discussions about an item of business for the purpose of developing a concurrence on action to be taken.
What is Not a Meeting
The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at a conference or other gathering open to the public that involves a discussion of issues of general interest to the public or to public agencies of the type represented by the legislative body, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled program, business of a specified nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the local agency. 54952.2(c)(2)(3) and (4)
The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at a purely social or ceremonial occasion, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves business of a specific nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency. (Government Code Section 54952.2(c)(5))
The Brown Act requires that an agenda for a regular meeting be posted at least 72 hours prior to the meeting and the agenda must contain a brief general description of each item to be transacted or discussed at the meeting. (Government Code Section 54954.2(a))
The purpose of the brief description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that the public can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting.
Except under very limited circumstances, the Brown Act provides that no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda.
Limited Exceptions for Discussion of Item Not on Agenda:
- Members of the public body, or its staff, may briefly respond to comments or questions from members of the public.
- Even without a comment from the public, members of the public body, or staff, may:
- Ask for information, request a report back or to place a matter of business on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.
- Ask a question for clarification;
- Make a brief announcement; or
- Briefly report on the member’s own activities.
(Government Code Section 54954.2(a)(2))
The Public’s Rights While Attending a Meeting
The public can attend a meeting without having to register or give other information. (Government Code Section 54953.3)
Every agenda for a regular meeting must allow members of the public to speak on any item of interest, so long as the item is within the subject area of the legislative body.
Further, the public must be allowed to speak on a specific item of business before or during the legislative body’s consideration.
However, the public body can enact restrictions which limit the total amount of time of testimony on particular issues. (Government Code Section 54954.3)
Penalties and Remedies for Violations of the Brown Act
Criminal penalties may be imposed for certain violations including attendance by a member of a body at a meeting where action is take in violation of the Act and where the member intends to deprive the public of information. (Government Code Section 54959)
Civil remedies also available including voiding any action taken in violation of the Brown Act. Attorneys’ fees may be awarded against the public body for violations. (Government Code Section 54960.5)