This is the first in a series of editorial articles explaining the major provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s local-government open-meeting laws. This week’s article addresses some of the more basic questions and answers.
The “Ralph M. Brown Act” is the official statutory name for California Government Code sections 54950 through 54963. These laws were passed by the California Legislature to provide for “open government” in California. The governing bodies of agencies are required to conduct their discussion and deliberations and take their actions openly. The Brown Act specifically provides that our public servants have no right to decide what it is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The Brown Act acknowledges that Californians insist on remaining informed so they can retain control over their public institutions. (Section 54950.)
Q. How does the Brown Act provide for open government?
A. With few specific exceptions, the Brown Act requires that local agencies hold their meetings locally so the people they serve can attend. Boards of local agencies are required to give notice of meetings and to post agendas in advance of their meetings so that people will know what will and will not be discussed. They must allow time for the public to comment at meetings. Local agency boards are not permitted to hold secret meetings. They may not meet informally either in person or electronically, either as a group or in a series of one-on-one meetings.
The Brown Act has been interpreted by California courts to mean that all of the deliberative processes by local legislative bodies must be open to public scrutiny. Numerous provisions of the Brown Act combine to assure public notice of and access to meetings of local legislative bodies. (Sections 54953, 54953.3, 54953.5, 54954.2 & 54957.5.)
Q. Does the Brown Act apply to local governmental agencies?
A. Yes. In fact, the Brown Act applies only to local agencies. (Sections 54951 and 54952.) (State agencies have a separate open-government act.) The Brown Act was enacted because of abuses by a local agency (a school district) so as to prevent such abuses in the future.
Q. What local agencies serving our Hill are required to comply with the Brown Act?
A. There are these 10, at least: The governing boards of County Service Area 36 (currently with no board), County Service Area 38, Fern Valley Water District, Hemet Unified School District, Idyllwild Fire Protection District, Idyllwild Water District, Lake Hemet Municipal Water District, Mt. San Jacinto Community College District, Pine Cove Water District and the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Future articles will examine specific Brown Act provisions in more detail.