Brown Act Axed (Reimbursements, Not Requirements)
In a move redolent of past accounting gimmicks that saved the state money, the Budget Conference Committee ended an era yesterday when it voted to end state reimbursements to local agencies for following parts of the Brown Act. They unanimously approved an LAO plan that instead makes certain parts of the Brown Act more like “safe harbor” provisions for complying with Proposition 59.
Prop. 59, which the Legislature put on the ballot in 2004, declares that “the people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” Of course, the Legislature itself is exempt.
The Legislature tried in a previous budget to order the Commission on State Mandates to reconsider — in light of Prop. 59 — its decision that instituted mandate reimbursements for parts of the Brown Act. But a judge disallowed the reconsideration, finding that such an order violated the separation of powers doctrine (the Commission is considered a quasi-judicial body).
So this latest proposal, which now looks like it will be part of a budget agreement (if there ever is one), skirts that issue by making the reimbursable portions of the Brown Act optional. Instead, the law will require each local agency to annually announce at a public meeting how it will meet the requirements of Prop. 59. Which sounds kind of like a new mandate…
Counties are now allowed, and encouraged, to devise new transparent and cost-effective ways of opening their meetings and writings to public scrutiny. For example, when this proposal becomes law, local agencies will not be specifically required to post meeting agendas that contain specified information a specified number of hours before each meeting. Every time counties leave services and programs unchanged when the Legislature suspends or repeals mandates, it only encourages them to continue saving money at our expense.