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Supervisors, San Diego Council Vow to Preserve Open Government Policies

Major boards join informal pledges backing original Brown Act by at least nine cities and towns.

Updated at 7:15 p.m. July 24, 2012

The county Board of Supervisors and the San Diego City Council affirmed their allegiance to open government Tuesday in response to the state’s suspension of some requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act as a means of cutting costs.

The board and council thus join informal pledges in , , , , , and .  The City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to confirm Mayor Art Madrid’s earlier commitment to previous provisions of the Brown Act.

And the watchdog group Californians Aware ldrive to restore the law to its original mandates.

The state Legislature enacted the Brown Act in 1953 to guarantee the public’s right to attend and take part in meetings of local legislative bodies.

In June, the Legislature agreed to suspend for three years a requirement that local governments post agendas 72 hours in advance of meetings. Also suspended was the requirement to make public the actions taken by government agencies in closed sessions, which are permitted in discussions
of lawsuits and some personnel matters.

“The Brown Act illuminated the dark corners of government offices where much of the public’s business was conducted behind closed doors,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “While the Brown Act empowers the public and the press, it’s only as good as the officials who adhere to it and the watchdogs who demand compliance.”

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to uphold the 72-hour notice requirement for agendas and to continue to publicly announce decisions made in
private.

“We welcome transparency and we welcome public participation,” Slater-Price said. “We’re an open book and we plan to stay that way.”

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a resolution stating it and various city panels would continue to comply with the Brown Act as it was intended.

“This resolution is to reaffirm this council’s, the mayor’s commitment to our open meeting laws and to continue, regardless of what the state does with its budget or mandated programs,” said Councilwoman Marti Emerald.

The council also directed the City Attorney’s Office to prepare an ordinance to be considered at a future meeting to ensure the public will have remedies for
noncompliance with the Brown Act.

“Public participation is the foundation of our democracy, and we are ensuring San Diegans will always have a voice at City Hall,” said Councilman Todd Gloria. “The state may say we don’t need to include the public in our meetings, but the San Diego City Council values the people we represent.”

On July 19, the San Diego Community College District announced: “While saving public funds is an important goal, some expenses are worth making when the public benefit is greater.”

District Chancellor Constance Carroll expressed concern about the partial suspension of this statute, noting that “a key element in good public process is ensuring that the public is well informed.”

Rich Grosch, president of the college board, said his panel “is committed to open information, transparency, and public accountability. We will continue the practices that lead to these outcomes.”

—City News Service contributed to this report.

Ken Stone July 27, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Update: School boards and community college district governing boards have to obey the old Brown Act mandates because they are stipulated under the Education Code and other policies. So expect public school boards to post meeting notices 72 hours in advance, as in the past. More details: http://patch.com/A-w21j
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