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THE BROWN ACT 2003

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THE BROWN ACT 2003
THE
BROWN
ACT
Open MEETINGS FOR
LOCAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES
2003
California Attorney
General’s Office
THE
BROWN
ACT
Open MEETINGS FOR
LOCAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES
Office of the Attorney General
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Prepared by the Division of Civil Law
Chief Assistant Attorney General Andrea Lynn Hoch
Deputy Attorney General Ted Prim, Editor
State of California
Office of the Attorney General
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Throughout California’s history, local legislative bodies have played a vital role in bringing
participatory democracy to the citizens of the state. Local legislative bodies - such as boards, councils
and commissions - are created in recognition of the fact that several minds are better than one, and that
through debate and discussion, the best ideas will emerge. The law which guarantees the public’s right
to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies is the Ralph M. Brown Act.
While local legislative bodies generally are required to hold meetings in open forum, the Brown Act
recognizes the need, under limited circumstances, for these bodies to meet in private in order to carry
out their responsibilities in the best interests of the public. For example, the law contains a personnel
exception based on notions of personal privacy, and a pending litigation exception based upon the
precept that government agencies should not be disadvantaged in planning litigation strategy.
Although the principle of open meetings initially seems simple, application of the law to real life
situations can prove to be quite complex.
The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide a brief description of the Brown Act, along with a
discussion of court decisions and opinions of this office that add to our understanding by applying it
in specific factual contexts. We hope this pamphlet will assist both public officials and those who
monitor the performance of local legislative bodies to minimize and resolve disputes over
interpretations of the Brown Act. In recent years, both the California Supreme Court and the courts
of appeal have recognized the benefit of pamphlets issued by our office. This recognition by the
courts, along with many favorable comments from members of the public, strengthens our resolve to
continue producing reliable informational materials on the Brown Act and other California laws.
Publication of these materials constitutes a tradition of service that we value greatly.
Ideas and suggestions for future editions of this pamphlet are welcomed and should be addressed to
the editor.
Sincerely,
BILL LOCKYER
Attorney General
1300 I Street • Suite 1740 • Sacramento, California • 95814
Table of Contents
Page
INTRODUCTION
v
SUMMARY OF KEY BROWN ACT PROVISIONS
vi
I.
PURPOSE AND SCOPE
1
II.
BODIES SUBJECT TO THE BROWN ACT
2
III.
1.
Local Agencies
3
2.
Legislative Bodies
4
A.
B.
C.
D.
5
5
6
7
Governing Bodies
Subsidiary Bodies
Private or Nonprofit Corporations and Other Entities
Hospital Lessees
MEETING DEFINED
1.
8
Face to Face Meetings
A.
B.
C.
D.
8
Conferences and Retreats
Other Public Meetings
Meetings of Other Legislative Bodies
Social or Ceremonial Occasions
9
10
10
11
2.
Serial Meetings
11
3.
Individual Contacts Between Members of the Public and Board Members
13
4.
Teleconference Meetings
14
5. Writings as Meetings
15
i
Table of Contents
(Continued)
Page
IV.
NOTICE AND AGENDA REQUIREMENTS
1.
15
Regular Meetings
16
A.
B.
C.
16
18
18
Agenda Requirement
Exceptions to Agenda Requirements
Public Testimony
2.
Special Meetings
20
3.
Emergency Meetings
20
4.
Closed Sessions
21
A.
B.
C.
21
23
24
Agenda Requirement
Oral Announcement Prior to Closed Sessions
Report at the Conclusion of Closed Sessions
5.
Adjournments and Continuances
25
6.
Location of Meetings
26
7.
Special Procedures Regarding Taxes and Assessments
27
V.
RIGHTS OF THE PUBLIC
27
VI.
PERMISSIBLE CLOSED SESSIONS
30
1.
Introduction
30
A.
B.
C.
D.
30
31
31
32
Narrow Construction
Semi-Closed Meetings
Secret Ballots
Confidentiality of Closed Session
ii
Table of Contents
(Continued)
Page
2.
Authorized Exceptions
33
A.
B.
Personnel Exception
Pending Litigation and the Attorney-Client Privilege
33
37
(1)
(2)
37
37
C.
D.
E.
F.
3.
VII.
Historical Background
Pending Litigation Exception
Real Property Negotiations Exception
Labor Negotiations Exception
Public Security Exception
License Application Exception
Minute Book
41
42
43
43
43
PENALTIES AND REMEDIES FOR VIOLATION OF THE ACT
44
1.
Criminal Penalties
44
2.
Civil Remedies
44
A.
B.
C.
44
45
47
Injunctive, Mandatory or Declaratory Relief
Voidability of Action
Attorney Fees
APPENDIX A
49
TIME DEADLINES
49
APPENDIX B
50
THE RALPH M. BROWN ACT
51
iii
Table of Contents
(Continued)
Page
TABLE OF AUTHORITIES
84
Cases
85
Statutes
88
Attorney General Opinions
92
Other Authorities
94
iv
INTRODUCTION
This pamphlet concerns the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which govern open meetings for
local government bodies. The Brown Act is contained in section 54950 et seq. of the Government
Code. Accordingly, all statutory references in this pamphlet are to the Government Code unless
otherwise noted. The pamphlet contains a table of contents, which may also serve as a topical outline
for the reader. The pamphlet also includes a brief summary of the main provisions of the Brown Act,
along with references to the appropriate Government Code sections and chapters of the text. The text
includes a discussion of the law along with tips on how the law should be applied in particular
situations. Numerous references are made to legal authorities throughout the text. A copy of the
Brown Act in its entirety is set forth in the appendix to the pamphlet. Lastly, the pamphlet contains
a table of authorities so that the reader can determine all of the places in the text where references are
made to a particular authority.
In preparing this pamphlet, we relied on a variety of legal resources. Appellate court cases were
consulted and are cited throughout the pamphlet. While most of the more significant cases are
discussed, this pamphlet is not intended to be a compendium of all court cases in this area. In addition,
we drew upon published opinions and unpublished letter opinions issued by this office. Attorney
General opinions, unlike appellate court decisions, are advisory only and do not constitute the law of
the state. However, with respect to the Brown Act, the courts have frequently adopted the analysis of
Attorney General opinions, and have commented favorably on the service afforded by those opinions
and this pamphlet. (Bell v. Vista Unified School Dist. (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 672; Freedom
Newspapers v. Orange County Employees Retirement System (1993) 6 Cal. 4th 821, 829.)
Published opinions are cited by volume and page number (e.g., 32 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 240 (1958)).
Unpublished letter opinions are cited as indexed letters by year and page number (e.g., Cal.Atty.Gen.,
Indexed Letter, No. IL 76-201 (October 20, 1976).) Published opinions are available through law
libraries and some attorneys’ offices. As a general rule, indexed letters are available only in the Office
of the Attorney General. Copies may be obtained by a request to the Public Inquiry Unit of the Office
of the Attorney General.
If you have specific questions or problems, the statutes, cases and opinions should be consulted. You
also may wish to refer the matter to the attorney for the agency in question, a private attorney or the
district attorney.
The pamphlet is current through January 2003 with respect to statutes, case law, and Attorney General
opinions.
v
SUMMARY OF KEY BROWN ACT PROVISIONS
COVERAGE
PREAMBLE:
Public commissions, boards, councils and other legislative 54950
bodies of local government agencies exist to aid in the conduct
of the people’s business. The people do not yield their
sovereignty to the bodies that serve them. The people insist on
remaining informed to retain control over the legislative bodies
they have created.
Ch. I
GOVERNING BODIES:
Includes city councils, boards of supervisors, and district 54952(a)
boards. Also covered are other legislative bodies of local
government agencies created by state or federal law.
Ch. I & II
SUBSIDIARY BODIES:
Includes boards or commissions of a local government agency 54952(b)
as well as standing committees of a legislative body. A
standing committee has continuing subject matter jurisdiction
or a meeting schedule set by its parent body. Less-than-aquorum advisory committees, other than standing committees,
are exempt.
Ch. II
PRIVATE OR NONPROFIT CORPORATIONS OR ENTITIES:
Covered only if:
a.
A legislative body delegates some of its 54952(c)(1)(A)
functions to a private corporation or entity; or
b.
If a legislative body provides some funding to a 54952(c)(1)(B)
private corporation or entity and appoints one of
its members to serve as a voting member of
entity’s board of directors.
vi
Ch. II
MEETING DEFINED
INCLUDES:
Any gathering of a quorum of a legislative body to discuss or 54952.2
transact business under the body’s jurisdiction; serial meetings
are prohibited.
Ch. III
EXEMPTS:
(1)
Individual contacts between board members and
others which do not constitute serial meetings;
54952.2(c)(1)
(2)
Attendance at conferences and other gatherings 54952.2(c)(2),
which are open to public so long as members of (3) and (4)
legislative bodies do not discuss among
themselves business of a specific nature under
the body’s jurisdiction;
(3)
Attendance at social or ceremonial events 54952.2(c)(5)
where no business of the body is discussed.
Ch. III
LOCATIONS OF MEETINGS:
A body must conduct its meetings within the boundaries of its
jurisdiction unless it qualifies for a specific exemption.
54954
Ch. IV
Teleconference meetings may be held under carefully defined 54953
conditions. The meeting notice must specifically identify all
teleconference locations, and each such location must be fully
accessible to members of the public.
Ch. III
TELECONFERENCE MEETINGS:
PUBLIC RIGHTS
PUBLIC TESTIMONY:
Public may comment on agenda items before or during 54954.3
consideration by legislative body. Time must be set aside for
public to comment on any other matters under the body’s
jurisdiction.
vii
Ch. IV & V
NON-DISCRIMINATORY FACILITIES:
Meetings may not be conducted in a facility that excludes 54953.2; 54961
persons on the basis of their race, religion, color, national
origin, ancestry, or sex, or that is inaccessible to disabled
persons, or where members of the public may not be present
without making a payment or purchase.
Ch. V
COPY OF RECORDING:
Public may obtain a copy, at cost, of an existing tape recording 54953.5
made by the legislative body of its public sessions, and to listen
to or view the body’s original tape on a tape recorder or
viewing device provided by the agency.
Ch. V
PUBLIC VOTE:
All votes, except for those cast in permissible closed session, 54953(c)
must be cast in public. No secret ballots, whether preliminary
or final, are permitted.
Ch. VI
CLOSED MEETING ACTIONS/DOCUMENTS:
At an open session following a closed session, the body must 54957.1
report on final action taken in closed session under specified
circumstances. Where final action is taken with respect to
contracts, settlement agreements and other specified records,
the public may receive copies of such records upon request.
Ch. IV, V &
VI
TAPING OR BROADCASTING:
Meetings may be broadcast, audio-recorded or video-recorded 54953.5;
so long as the activity does not constitute a disruption of the 54953.6
proceeding.
Ch. V
CONDITIONS TO ATTENDANCE:
Public may not be asked to register or identify themselves or to 54953.3;
pay fees in order to attend public meetings.
54961
Ch. V
PUBLIC RECORDS:
Materials provided to a majority of a body which are not 54957.5
exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act must be
provided, upon request, to members of the public without
delay.
viii
Ch. V
REQUIRED NOTICES AND AGENDAS
REGULAR MEETINGS:
Agenda containing brief general description (approximately 54954.2
twenty words in length) of each matter to be considered or
discussed must be posted at least 72 hours prior to meeting.
Ch. IV
SPECIAL MEETINGS:
Twenty-four hour notice must be provided to members of 54956
legislative body and media outlets including brief general
description of matters to be considered or discussed.
Ch. IV
EMERGENCY MEETINGS:
One hour notice in case of work stoppage or crippling
activity, except in the case of a dire emergency.
54956.5
Ch. IV
CLOSED SESSION AGENDAS:
All items to be considered in closed session must be described
in the notice or agenda for the meeting. A model format for
closed-session agendas appears in section 54954.5. Prior to
each closed session, the body must orally announce the subject
matter of the closed session. If final action is taken in closed
session, the body generally must report the action at the
conclusion of the closed session.
54954.2;
54954.5;
54957.1 and
54957.7
Ch. IV
AGENDA EXCEPTION:
Special procedures permit a body to proceed without an agenda 54954.2(b)
in the case of emergency circumstances, or where a need for
immediate action came to the attention of the body after posting
of the agenda.
ix
Ch. IV
CLOSED-SESSION MEETINGS
PERSONNEL EXEMPTION:
The body may conduct a closed session to consider 54957
appointment, employment, evaluation of performance,
discipline or dismissal of an employee. With respect to
complaints or charges against an employee brought by another
person or another employee, the employee must be notified, at
least 24 hours in advance, of his or her right to have the hearing
conducted in public.
Ch. VI
PUBLIC SECURITY:
A body may meet with law enforcement or security personnel 54957
concerning the security of public buildings and services.
Ch. VI
PENDING LITIGATION:
A body may meet in closed session to receive advice from its 54956.9
legal counsel concerning existing litigation, initiating litigation,
or situations involving a significant exposure to litigation. The
circumstances which constitute significant exposure to
litigation are expressly defined in section 54956.9(b)(3).
Ch. VI
LABOR NEGOTIATIONS:
A body may meet in closed session with its negotiator to 54957.6
consider labor negotiations with represented and unrepresented
employees. Issues related to budgets and available funds may
be considered in closed session, although final decisions
concerning salaries of unrepresented employees must be made
in public.
Ch. VI
REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATIONS:
A body may meet in closed session with its negotiator to 54956.8
consider price and terms of payment in connection with the
purchase, sale, exchange or lease of real property.
x
Ch. VI
REMEDIES AND SANCTIONS
CIVIL REMEDIES:
Individuals or the district attorney may file civil lawsuits for 54960;
injunctive, mandatory or declaratory relief, or to void action 54960.1
taken in violation of the Act.
Attorneys’ fees are available to prevailing plaintiffs.
Ch. VII
54960.5
CRIMINAL SANCTIONS:
The district attorney may seek misdemeanor penalties against 54959
a member of a body who attends a meeting where action is
taken in violation of the Act, and where the member intended
to deprive the public of information which the member knew
or has reason to know the public was entitled to receive.
Return to Main Body
xi
Ch. VII
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