State Suspends Portions Of Brown Act
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.