Open and honest
City refuses to heed legislation gutting state’s open meeting law
By André Coleman 08/09/2012
Ignoring an assertion by the state that a less transparent government could save California millions of dollars, the Pasadena City Council on Monday unanimously voted to continue adhering to the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that mandates open public meetings.
In June, the state Legislature voted to suspend key portions of the law, which require city governments to post agendas 72 business hours before meetings and grants citizens the right to attend and participate in local government meetings, like those of the council. It also prohibits city officials from holding meetings in secret.
“To suspend the Brown Act would be terrible and the wrong thing to do,” said Councilman Steve Madison. “It is my understanding they suspended all unfunded mandates. I am not aware of anyone who would say we should not have open meetings anymore. In Pasadena, we have continued to honor it. We are complying with the Brown Act.”
Because the law requires cities to produce records and documents for the public, those cities can seek reimbursement for those costs from the state. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, suspending the reimbursements could save the state about $63 million in a single year. According to that 2011 report, Santa Barbara County was reimbursed $80,000 that year.
Pasadena only receives about $1,000 a year, according to a report generated by the City Manager’s Office.
Signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Bill 1464, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Robert Blumenfield of Van Nuys, was intended as a budget rider but included deletions of the Brown Act as part of its text. A companion bill, Senate Bill 1006, authored by the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, was another fiscal bill passed by the Assembly and the Senate in June that requires the suspension of the Brown Act to remain in effect through 2015.
Suspended Brown Act provisions include:
• Preparing and posting a meeting agenda, containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, at least 72 hours before any regular meeting.
• Inclusion of a brief description of items to be discussed in closed session meetings.
• Disclosure of each item to be discussed in closed session in an open meeting, prior to any closed session.
• Reporting in open session prior to adjournment on the actions and votes taken in closed session regarding certain subject matters.
• Providing copies to the public of certain closed session documents.
“We’re aware of the changes at the state level,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer. “We are not changing anything we do regarding adherence to the Brown Act. We will continue to advocate for and believe in transparency in government.”