Garrett Harris 9:48 p.m., May 23
Advocacy Group Sues State Over Suspension of Open Government Provisions
San Diego residents are fighting for their right for an open government and open meetings. On Monday, the government watchdog group San Diegans for Open Government announced that it was suing the State over the recent suspension of mandates associated with the Brown Act.
The decision, signed into law last week, is an effort to deter cities and other local agencies from inflating the cost to post agendas 72 hours before meetings, as is required by the Brown Act.
The issue is not new. In recent years the state has claimed that cities were exaggerating the cost to ensure the Brown Act was followed. One example occured in Vista where, according to Californians Aware, the City billed the state $20,174 for agendas during 2005/2006. For one meeting alone, the City charged more than $800.
The state then refused to reimburse cities and other agencies but in order to keep the mandate in place, allowed the money owed to local agencies to accrue. That ended last week, leaving the door open, or rather closed, for local officials to hold secret meetings. Suspending the mandate also removes any chance to legally challenge improperly noticed meetings.
“We citizens cannot sit by while local politicians use Sacramento’s inability to budget prudently as a license to conduct the people’s business behind closed doors,” explained Ian Trowbridge, government watchdog and chairman of San Diegans for Open Government. “In the grand scheme of things, the cost of posting agendas is basically zero. Local government should not be allowed to use an un-reimbursed bill for relatively few dollars to justify doing the public’s business in secret.”
The group's lawyers claim legislators failed to provide adequate justification for restricting public access, which runs afoul of Proposition 59 in the constitution.
Read the lawsuit and press release here--
Search for "Brown Act" to find provision in the state bill 1464
Update: Councilmember Marti Emerald just issued a press release requesting that an emergency resolution be docketed at the July 24 council hearing.
*Update 7/17: Donna Frye is sending out the following letter on the suspension of the state mandate:
"Dear Friends, The Brown Act is the state’s open meeting law that requires local governments to prepare and post agendas for public meetings and disclose decisions made in closed meetings. The state will reimburse the entities required to comply with the Brown Act for the costs associated with these requirements because they are considered to be a state mandate.
When the state budget was adopted, the money to reimburse those costs was cut from the budget. Since the requirement to post meeting agendas is considered a mandate, and the mandate was suspended, so was the requirement to continue posting public meeting agendas.
Open meetings would mean little without public notice of where and when they are scheduled and what business is to be addressed, or if actions taken after deliberation in closed session were never to be revealed.
The fact that many if not most local agencies pledge to continue complying with the agenda and disclosure requirements voluntarily is heartening, but will be of no consolation if and when an agency decides, for whatever reason, not to provide meaningful disclosures on an agenda or after a closed session. In such cases the public will have no basis for challenging the secrecy and no remedy for correcting it.
Please take the following actions right now.
What you can do locally
Councilmember Marti Emerald is working to have the matter docketed at city council on July 24 to ensure that in the City of San Diego, the Brown Act noticing requirements and all legal remedies will be enforced.
Please send her an email stating:
I support your action to have the Brown Act issue placed on the City Council docket for July 24. We must ensure that the city will continue its compliance with the current Brown Act posting and action disclosure requirements and their enforceability by any of the judicial remedies provided in the Brown Act. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What you can do to help with a permanent, statewide solution
There is legislation available to permanently correct this problem. Senator Leland Yee’s Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA) 7 would place on the statewide ballot a simple constitutional requirement: “Each public body shall provide public notice of its meetings and shall publicly disclose any action taken.” If approved by the voters, it becomes the law and could not be “suspended” again without a vote of the public.
The bill is stuck in the Appropriations Committee, but that committee, by a majority vote, can pass it and send it to the Assembly Floor. It seems like some kind of political influence has stopped Senator Yee’s bill from moving forward for a vote, but you can help apply public pressure to change that.
Please send Assemblymember Fuentes, Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Speaker of the Assembly John Perez the following message:
Free SCA 7 (Yee) from the Appropriations Committee suspense file and allow the bill to go to the full assembly for a vote. Open meetings would mean little without public notice. SCA 7 is the only means of providing a permanent, express mandate for public notice of the meetings of public bodies and public disclosure of actions taken in their closed sessions—a mandate that will not be subject to suspension with the vagaries of state finances.
Hon. Felipe Fuentes (Chair) email@example.com
Hon. John A. Pérez (Assembly Speaker) firstname.lastname@example.org*