Well, here we go again with the Town Crier’s favorite subject, the Brown Act. Not only did we get a long article by Mr. Crumrine, but a passionate “Out Loud” column by Mrs. Clark. In her column, Clark includes a partial quote from a letter I submitted 16 weeks ago concerning the latest grand jury “investigation” of IFPD.
She quoted me as saying, “Other than abiding by many state laws that govern its activities, [IFPD] is not beholden to anyone …”
What I said was, “IFPD is an independent organization overseen by a board of commissioners elected by the citizens of our community. Other than abiding by many state laws that govern its activities, it is not beholden to anyone, especially not the county.” As you may remember, the grand jury was taking issue with how the chief distributes special assignments among members of his staff.
You may have noticed that whenever the Town Crier alleges the failure of IFPD to comply with the Brown Act, it always quotes its attorney. What this says to me is that the TC lacks enough confidence in its own understanding of the law without asking its attorney for his opinion and guidance. And who can blame the TC?
The Brown Act, passed in 1953, consists of 43 codified sections, including 196 subparagraphs. It is half again longer than the U.S. Constitution, including all 27 amendments. And, as we all know, we have nine members of the Supreme Court whose job it is to decide what the constitution really means, and they seldom agree with each other.
The California attorney general had this to say about the Brown Act: “The principle of open meetings initially seems simple, application of the law to real life situations can prove to be quite complex.”
And, the First Amendment Coalition said this: “A knowing violation of the Brown Act with the intent to deprive the public of information to which it is entitled is a crime. However, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for a violation of the Brown Act.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act is an important piece of legislation, and every local agency should do their best to abide by it, but unintentional mistakes will be made. It all boils down to whether the unintentional violator was acting in good faith, or in bad faith, and whether they learn from their mistakes.
Editor’s note: California Newspaper Publishers Association General Counsel Jim Ewert is a newspaper resource, not the Town Crier’s attorney. He is often quoted throughout newspapers in California as a credible source in stories.