The Brown Act (Government Code §§ 54950-54962) governs meeting access for local public bodies.
(The following guide is intended to be a quick reference and provide general information. It addresses some common public meetings problems, but does not substitute for research or consultation with a lawyer on detailed questions.)
Open Meeting Laws In California: The Brown Act
Meetings of public bodies must be "open and public," actions may not be secret, and action taken in violation of open meetings laws may be voided. (§§ 54953(a), 54953(c), 54960.1(d))
- Local agencies, including counties, cities, school and special districts. (§ 54951)
- "Legislative bodies" of each agency--the agency's governing body plus "covered boards," that is, any board, commission, committee, task force or other advisory body created by the agency, whether permanent or temporary. (§ 54952(b))
- Any standing committee of a covered board, regardless of number of members. (§ 54952(b))
- Governing Bodies of Non-profit corporations formed by a public agency or which includes a member of a covered board and receives public money from that board. (§ 54952(c))
WHO'S NOT COVERED
- ad hoc advisory committees consisting of less than a quorum of the covered board (§54952(b)); most other non-profit corporations.
- All other government agencies. State governmental agencies are covered by the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. (Govt. Code §§ 11120-11132)
A "meeting" is any gathering of a majority of the members of a covered board to hear, discuss, or deliberate on matters within the agency's or board's jurisdiction. (§ 54952.2(a))
Note: No vote or action is required for the gathering to be a meeting, nor must the members meet face to face. (§ 54952.2)
WHAT MUST HAPPEN
Under the Brown Act an agency must:
- post notice and an agenda for any regular meeting (§§ 54954(a), 54954.2(a)); mail notice at least three days before regular meetings to those who request it, (§ 54954.1); post notice of continued meetings, (§ 54955.1); deliver notice of special meetings at least one day in advance to those who request it, (§ 54956); and deliver notice of emergency meetings at least one hour in advance to those who request it.. (§§ 54956, 54956.5)
- notify the media of special or emergency meetings if requested, (§§ 54956, 54956.5); allow media to remain in meetings cleared due to public disturbance. (§§ 54957.9)
- hold meetings in the jurisdiction of the agency except in limited circumstances, (§§ 54954(b)- (e)), and in places accessible to all, with no fee. (§ 54961(a))
- not require a "sign in" for anyone. (§ 54953.3)
- allow non-disruptive recording and broadcast of meetings, (§ 54953.5(a)), and let the public inspect any recording made by the agency of its open meetings. (§ 54953.5(b)) The agency may destroy recordings it made after 30 days. (§ 54953.5(b))
- allow the public to address the covered board at regular or committee meetings on any item in the agency's jurisdiction not addressed by the agency at an earlier open meeting.. (§ 54954.3(a))
- conduct only public votes, with no secret ballots. (§ 54953(c))
- treat documents as public "without delay," if distributed to all or a majority of members of a board before or at the meeting, unless they are also exempt under the Public Records Act. (§ 54957.5)
Closed meetings are the exception and permitted only if they meet defined purposes and follow special requirements (§§ 54954, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54957.7).
EVEN AT CLOSED MEETINGS...
Special public notice and agenda requirements apply (§§ 54954, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54957.7).
All actions taken and all votes in closed session must be publicly reported orally or in writing within 24 hours (§ 54957.1(b)), and copies of any contracts or settlements approved must be made available promptly (§ 54957.1(b),(c)).
CLOSED MEETINGS MAY BE HELD FOR:
Personnel -- Only to discuss the appointment, employment, performance evaluation, discipline, complaints about or dismissal of a specific employee or potential employee (§ 54957). The employee may request a public meeting on any charges or complaints.
But closed sessions are NOT ALLOWED for discussing:
- general employment
- independent contractors not functioning as employees
- the performance of any elected official, or member of the board
- the local agency's available funds
- funding priorities or budget
Pending Litigation -- Only if open discussion "would prejudice the position of the agency in the litigation." The litigation must be named on the posted agenda or announced in open session unless doing so would jeopardize the board's ability to service process on an unserved party or conclude existing settlement negotioations to its advantage. (§ 54956.9).
To qualify, the agency must:
- be a party to pending litigation (§ 54956.9(a))
- OR expect, based on certain specified facts, to be sued (§§ 54956.9(b)(1),(b)(2))
- OR expect to file suit itself (§ 54956.9(c))
Labor Negotiations -- Only to instruct the agency's identified negotiator on compensation issues (§ 54957.6). (Note: school districts are covered by the Rodda Act, Govt. Code §§ 3540-3549.3)
Property Negotiations -- Only to discuss, with an agency's identified bargaining agent, price or payment terms. The parcel, negotiators and the prospective seller or purchaser must be on the agenda. (§ 54956.8) Final price and payment terms must be disclosed when the actual lease or contract is discussed for approval. (§ 54957.1(a))
Others -- License applications for people with criminal records (§ 54956.7); threats to public services or facilities; (§ 54957) insurance pooling (§ 54956.95)).