Local elected city officials are not impressed with a trailer bill passed in the 11th hour by state legislators last month that would help balance the state’s budget by suspending portions of the California Brown Act.
The bill makes it optional for government agencies to post public agenda notices and report actions taken out of closed session.
Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda recently submitted two resolutions for council review to be agendized at the Aug. 7 meeting.
He asked for a commitment from fellow council members to follow Brown Act laws irrespective of whether or not the state reimburses it for the work.
Castaneda said this is one way the council can continue to ensure open meeting laws continue in Chula Vista.
“I think it’s vitally important that the public is fully aware and notified of their representative’s agendas,” Castaneda said.
“Just because the state legislature is trying to throw local agencies a bone by not enforcing transparency and sunshine laws, I think is ridiculous. I think we need to ensure that the public always knows what the council is doing.”
In Chula Vista and National City elected officials say they will continue to conduct business as usual, complying with open meeting laws. National City Mayor Ron Morrison said the bill is the state’s latest ploy to dig up more money.
“It’s them (the state) saying that they don’t want to mandate it, because if they mandate it, they’d have to pay us for it,” Morrison said. “This is a way for them to add numbers into the budget. How ridiculous to say the thing you want to save on is less transparency?”
Morrison said the state’s logic doesn’t make any sense and that it’s imperative to disclose what happens at a meeting so people know if something is going to affect them.
State law requires local governments to prepare and post agendas for public meetings and disclose decisions made in closed meetings. Passed as a cost cutting measure, it’s estimated to save the state nearly $100 million.
The California Emergency Management act permits the governor to suspend state statues in response to a declared emergency.
The bill also allows local agencies to move more deliberations and decision-making from a public forum into a closed session, which is inconsistent with the constitutional requirements for open government in the state and the historical significance of the Brown Act itself.
The suspensions come during a tumultuous time for Chula Vista’s local community college and high school district. Southwestern College and the Sweetwater Union High School District have battled transparency and ethical issues since last year.
However, Jonathan Pearl of Dannis Woliver & Kelley, whose firm provides counsel for Southwestern College, said the state’s suspension does not apply to school districts and colleges.
“As far as our clients are concerned, the Brown Act remains in place,” Pearl said. “Meetings are supposed to be open in good times and in bad times. The fact that the Brown Act requirement remains in play for school districts in communities promotes that interest and is good for the community and public.”
Sweetwater District Attorney Daniel Shinoff of the firm Shinoff & Holtz said continuing to comply with the terms of the Brown Act is considered best practice.