Under the law known as the Brown Act, local government agencies such as the City of Oakdale, Oakdale Joint Unified School District, Oakdale Irrigation District, and Oak Valley Hospital District must post public meeting agendas and release closed session decisions.
Submerged within the State’s 2012-2013 budget, however, is a new provision that may have the outcome of shelving portions of the “Open Meetings Act/Brown Act Reform.” In an effort to reduce expenditures, the budget provision is suspending reimbursement to local agencies for costs of posting meeting agendas to the public. Local governments were only required to follow this state mandate since they were being reimbursed for any costs.
Brown Act reimbursements were intended to cover the costs that local governments incurred while preparing public agendas in advance of open meetings, including photocopying and staff time.
According to the state, approximately $828 million is being saved by cancelling a number of state mandates, which are duties California imposes on local governments and then later reimburses them for after they comply. The Brown Act, authored by the late former assemblyman Ralph M. Brown of Modesto, is one of the requirements that the state included.
This “cost saving measure,” deleted last month, now relinquishes a government agency’s obligations to post agendas and report to the public actions taken while it was in closed session.
The number of California municipalities that choose to abandon the open public meeting law is still unknown and the news has not cascaded down.
The League of California Cities is expected to release an opinion later this month but is recommending local jurisdictions to “stick with the status quo.”
School districts are still bound by the education code to follow the Brown Act in having open meetings and posting agendas.
According to Oakdale City Clerk Nancy Lilly, 2002 was the last time the city received any reimbursement from the state for Brown Act costs. The city administrator at that time – Bruce Bannerman – determined the potential for reimbursement was so low compared to the cost of preparing the reports that reimbursement reports were halted.
“I’m not anticipating any change in agenda notifications and postings,” said Lilly. “As far as I know, everything will remain the same.”
“We’ll continue to do what we’ve done without changes,” said Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul. “I’ve always believed in transparency and openness.”
Oak Valley Hospital District CEO John McCormick stated they were not aware of the restriction and would have to review the law to ascertain any changes. He did not foresee any changes in their current operation of posting agenda items.
In 2004, voters passed Proposition 59 which requires “right of access to information” with regard to government actions.
With the state’s budget issues the suspension could last through 2015 and to skeptics it appears the public will need to request transparency from its government officials if it wants to stay apprised.
To others, with the suspension, it may make it easier to now include last minute items in an emergency without a 72-hour notice.
As for now, there appears to be no consequence if and when an agency decides, for whatever reason, not to provide meaningful disclosures on an agenda or after a closed session and the public will have no basis for challenging the matter and no remedy for correcting it.