In his letter published last week in the Town Crier, Mr. Gogerty clearly disagrees with the California attorney general and with California courts as to what constitutes a meeting under the Brown Act. The AG’s website includes an informative pamphlet summarizing the Brown Act, which states at page 8: “The definition of the term ‘meeting’ contained in [Government Code] section 54952.2(a) includes any congregation of a majority of the members of a body at the same time and place to hear, discuss or deliberate on any issue under the subject matter jurisdiction of the body. This definition makes it clear that the body need not take any action in order for a gathering to be defined as a meeting. A gathering is a meeting if a majority of the members of the body merely receive information or discuss their views on an issue.” And numerous California Court of Appeal cases have held that the Brown Act applies to “the collective acquisition and exchange of facts preliminary to the ultimate decision.” (See, for example, Sacramento Newspaper Guild v. Sacramento County Bd. of Supervisors (1968) 263 Cal.App.2d 41, 47-48.)
Mr. Gogerty’s letter establishes that 60 pages of written information were received by the IFPD Commission and by its standing Finance Committee during their unnoticed meetings in Perris. Both the courts and the AG agree that the mere receiving of information (the collective acquisition of facts) renders unnoticed meetings in violation of the California Government Code. Mr. Gogerty further relates that additional information was received orally and that discussions were had in the form of “questions of clarification about specific costs and allocations.” Mr. Gogerty’s letter is itself evidence that these two IFPD Brown Act bodies held meetings required by law to have been noticed to the public they serve, but they were not.
To be sure, Mr. Gogerty himself, as a new public member of IFPD’s standing Finance Committee, no doubt was acting in good faith when he participated in the unnoticed Perris meetings, that is, he must truly have believed that those meetings were not in violation of law, else he would not have defended them so vigorously in his letter to the editor. But whoever assured Mr. Gogerty that they could legally receive information or that they could engage in even limited discussion — either one — at those unnoticed meetings in Perris did him a great disservice. They also did a disservice to the people of the district they serve.
These were not technical violations of obscure provisions of the Brown Act, as Mr. Killingsworth suggested in his letter published two weeks ago in the Town Crier. These violations were at the core of the Brown Act — second-page stuff: “Definition of Meeting.”
Why didn’t the Town Crier cover the Perris meetings on behalf of the public? We would have, had we known about them — but they were not noticed by IFPD. Why weren’t they?
In the introduction to the pamphlet, the AG relates: “In recent years, both the California Supreme Court and the courts of appeal have recognized the benefit of pamphlets issued by our office. This recognition by the courts, along with many favorable comments from members of the public, strengthens our resolve to continue producing reliable information materials on the Brown Act and other California laws. Publication of these materials constitutes a tradition of service that we value greatly …
“We hope this pamphlet will assist both public officials and those who monitor the performance of local legislative bodies to minimize and resolve disputes over interpretations of the Brown Act.”
As one of the public “monitors” of the performance of local legislative bodies, the Town Crier will further the AG’s purpose by providing a complimentary, ring-bound copy of the AG’s pamphlet to each of the Brown Act agencies on the Hill. We hope that these agencies will further distribute the pamphlet by making a copy for each individual member of their Brown Act boards and committees, and by continuing to do so for every new member over the years.