CityWatch, June 26, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 51
RETHINIKING LA - The mere suggestion that it might be time to revisit
California’s open-meeting law with a Sunshine Ordinance draws two kinds
of responses, best summed up as “It’s about time that common sense
prevailed!” and “Have you joined the regulatory race to the bottom?”
California’s Brown Act is currently under attack amidst charges that it
is an outdated law that lacks contemporary teeth, allowing the more
sophisticated municipal authorities to abuse it while the smaller
community based parties find themselves encumbered by its complexity and
On the one hand, the LA County Board of Supervisors
acts with complete disregard for the Brown Act requirements that the
people’s business be conducted in public. On the other hand,
Neighborhood Councils close their Facebook accounts and create email
firewalls out of fear that their digital conversations might qualify as a
serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act.
As for Terry
Francke’s suggestion that it might be time to follow the lead of other
cities, both small and large, with an updating of the half-century old
Brown Act, the feedback was both supportive and dismissive. And now it’s
On the one side came this message from a former member
of the US Foreign Service who also participated in his local
Neighborhood Council and points to the Brown Act as one of the reasons
for dropping out.
“It seems to me that the spirit if not the
letter of the Brown act could be preserved without “secret cabals and
back-room politics” if written communication between NC members
(e-mail) was permitted as long as copies were sent to the NC archives.
could read them there (even though it seems very few care about
anything), and so the history of how a decision was reached could be
preserved, without it all having to be done orally at NC meetings
squeezed for time and often in confusion.
“None of the things
an NC does are inherently secret, but having more time, over a matter of
weeks instead of minutes, could result in better drafted resolutions
with a chance to think about them and ponder unintended consequences for
a while before a vote is taken. Most of the problems I have seen come
from the perceived prohibition on pre-meeting discussion of a topic.
Haste may make waste, but it also results in bad politics.”
for the other side came this response from a lawyer who is an expert in
the Brown Act and the Public Records Act, both of which he relies on as
he advocates on behalf of the people.
“Your complaint is that so
many people violate the law that we should abolish the law. If the law
were stupid, like the pot laws, yes, but if the laws protect us from
fraud and cronyism, then No. We need better education, but some people
“If you tinker with the Brown Act for NCs,
you'll find huge loopholes for City Councils, etc. Already, the Brown
Act is very weak on remedies. The last thing this country needs to do
is to encourage more fraud.
“Corruption and incompetence are the
core evils that are killing LA and the nation as a whole. In fact,
corruption has spread far into Europe. We need more ethical people and
reducing laws that require them to act right even when they do not want
to will never build a moral society.”
debate over the Brown Act continues to simmer, it’s clear that the
current scenario must be addressed with better education and enforcement
so that those who are violating California’s Open Meeting commitment
are held accountable while those who are acting appropriately can be
relieved of the fear of liability and legal action.
Through it all, it is incumbent on our leadership to set the standard for compliance and for enforcement with their behavior.
other words, it’s up to the people to hold the LA County Board of
Supervisors accountable and for the City Council, Committees, and
Commissions to demonstrate an inspired approach to conducting the
people’s business in an open and transparent manner.