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In recent years, residents have grown accustomed to hearing about budget cuts; whether they be cuts to libraries, social programs, parks, or to public safety.

But state legislators have found one way to save money that not many residents have heard of, one that scares public officials and government watchdogs. Those cuts are to the Brown Act, the law that governs public meetings.

Last month, scrounging for any cash at all to help fill the massive budget gap, state legislators managed to find nearly $100 million by suspending a portion of the Brown Act that requires government agencies to post agendas 72 hours in advance and announce closed-session meetings. The state is then required to reimburse cities and other government agencies the cost of proper notification. Now cities, counties and other agencies are forced to foot the bill.

State Senator Leland Yee has since been working on amending the state constitution to include provisions of the Brown Act, however until then it will be left up to local officials to follow parts of a law that is in limbo.

Some cities and counties have already stated that they plan to follow the rules despite the recent cuts, as reported in the Press-Enterprise Newspaper in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties..

However, not all local officials are aware nor are many residents. That's a troubling notion for some.

"If the noticing requirements of the Brown Act have been suspended as part of the current state budget, it is bad news for the public," says former councilmember Donna Frye.

"It would be impossible for the public to participate if no agenda was posted. However, I believe the City of San Diego will still comply with the agenda posting requirements. If not, I am certain that the public and media outrage would be immediate and severe."

According to Frye, Councilmember Marti Emerald is currently working to get something docketed on an upcoming agenda, ensuring that residents will receive proper notification for upcoming meetings.

"I believe she is currently working on possible solutions to ensure the public that the City of San Diego will continue to follow the noticing requirements."

I am waiting to hear back from Councilmember Emerald's office.

Update: Councilmember Emerald was not able to put item on an agenda for next week. To make this even more confusing, and slightly less alarming, the state has complained for years that cities and other agencies have inflated the cost to post agendas and other provisions of the Open Act Meeting. For instance, according to Californians Aware (http://calaware.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/brown-act-suspended-no-but-committee-thwarting-reform-2-2/), the City of Vista sent a bill to the state for $20,174 for agendas during 2005/2006. For one meeting alone, the City charged more than $800. So, the newly passed budget is a way for the state to save money and also a way to stop cities and other local agencies from overstating costs to follow the Brown Act.

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Comments

historymatters July 12, 2012 @ 6:45 p.m.

this is part of the bullying to get people to pass tax hikes. meanwhile brown didnt cut anything from redevelopment! 6 billion a year! how bout looking there for money ca?

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SurfPuppy619 July 13, 2012 @ 12:48 p.m.

Brown gave out 5% raises to the prison guards-I'm not voting for any tax increase so gov employees can get COLA's triple the inflation rate......nor will anyone else.....

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jelula July 13, 2012 @ 3:46 p.m.

The article states "...suspending a portion of the Brown Act that requires government agencies to post agendas 72 hours in advance and announce closed-session meetings. The state is then required to reimburse cities and other government agencies the cost of proper notification. Now cities, counties and other agencies are forced to foot the bill."

I'm not clear from this article if the 72-hours in advance noticing requirement is suspended or only the requirement for the State to reimburse local jurisdictions for costs of posting Brown Act notices. The first (partial) sentence cited above seems to state clearly that the 72 hour requirement is suspended but, then, the closing sentence quote above implies that it's the reimbursement by the State requirement that is suspended.

Can anyone clarify that for me?

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Dorian Hargrove July 13, 2012 @ 6:44 p.m.

Jelula,

I apologize for not being clear enough. The state currently has been setting all of this money aside, not reimbursing cities and other local governments. By allowing the payments to accrue the state was able to continue to keep the Brown Act in place. Their recent vote to suspend those portions of the Brown Act is a way for the state to not have to pay, or continue to pay to enforce the act.

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nostalgic July 13, 2012 @ 9:29 p.m.

The Brown Act provides minimum support for public input at best. Knowing 3 days in advance when all of the "players" involved know EXACTLY and far in advance when something will be heard is not an earth-shaking advantage. This new law seems convoluted. Local goverments still have to post, but the state won't pay. But, if the state won't pay do they still have to conform? Where does this leave them? With less adherence to the Brown Act, that much is clear.

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SurfPuppy619 July 13, 2012 @ 9:35 p.m.

it leaves the public the only option of going to court and getting an injunction, with a jail term or fine or both under contempt to be the remedy. That would work, and will work

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pbSpirits_dot_com July 13, 2012 @ 11:26 p.m.

I'm looking for collaborators on a subscription service where citizens can be notified when topics they're interested in are mentioned in San Diego city agendas and minutes. The goal is to expand from there but, let's test it here! Check: http://datajuncture.com/ideas/local-municipality-enotify-alerts/

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MiriamRaftery July 16, 2012 @ 7:35 p.m.

What a load of horse manure! In this day and age of the Internet there are plenty of ways to get word out to the public at ZERO cost regarding meetings and agendas. Many online media run these notices free or at minimal cost.

The bare minimum required by law now is to tack the notice up in a couple of public places and notify any media that's asked to be kept informed. The latter can be done by email. They should be required to have MORE public notice, not less. How about mandating notices on websites for the agency or board, as well as email notices sent to all local media?

As a news editor myself, we rely on these advance notices and yes, even the closed session notices. We've been able to ask for more info and require, for example, that a vague reference to litigation be clarified so the public knew who was suing the agency (and we could find out why). We've actually enforced the law and forced postponement of meetings where our media outlet was not provided the notice required by law before a public meeting. And when we DID get the word out, turnout has sometimes been huge. For example, a school board that made a controversial decision found itself facing an angry mob of 800 parents after we got word out about a meeting called on short notice and scheduled on a holiday; this was the largest crowd by far that district ever had show up for anything. On another occasion we forced a revote -- and the outcome changed--after we invoked the Brown Act.

These notices are crucial for democracy! Shame on the Legislator for rolling back these crucial protections. I hope the lawsuit prevails.

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