The Placerville City Council voted to buck new state mandates suspending portions of the Brown Act during the Aug. 14 City Council meeting. The Ralph M. Brown Act is the state law governing the requirements for open meetings for local legislative bodies. California State Assembly Bill 1464, the Budget Act of 2012, contained a schedule of state mandates that were suspended for the 2012-2013 budget year, including the Brown Act. On June 27, when AB 1464 was signed into law, California State Senate Bill 1006 extended the suspended mandates through the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 fiscal years.
The portions of the Brown Act suspended by the mandate include the preparation and posting of meeting agendas with a brief general description of each item of business at least 72 hours before the meeting; inclusion on the agenda of all items to be discussed in closed session; disclosure of each item to be discussed in closed session in an open meeting prior to any closed session; report in open session of the actions and votes taken in closed session and providing copies to the public of certain closed session documents.
The suspension was incorporated into the Budget Act, reportedly as a way to save money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by the state must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandate, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates. Suspension of the Brown Act was the state’s method of discontinuing reimbursements to local government.
“We were being reimbursed by the state for City Council, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation and other meetings about $6,000 a year, depending on the year, ” said Dave Warren, city finance director. Costs are incurred in the staff time associated with creating and posting agendas 72 hours in advance of meetings and in providing copies of closed session documents to the public.
“This is disturbing,” said resident Michael Drobesh.”Why would the state do this?”
“A lot of cities are choosing to continue following the Brown Act guidelines because of the safety and guarantees it provides to the citizens and local government of open meetings,” said Placerville Mayor Mark Acuna, in a phone interview with the Mountain Democrat. “To follow the state’s mandates to suspend parts of the Brown Act is not an acceptable way to do business as far as city staff and the City Council were concerned and it’s an expense we’re willing to absorb.”
“The state government’s willingness to play hostage with the public’s right to open meetings is a comment on the disasterous condition of the state budget,” said Acuna. “We want to continue to try to be as open and transparent as possible.”
The City Council voted with a 4-0 approval to continue to implement all requirements of the Brown Act. City Manager Cleve Morris said of the council’s decision, “It gives transparency and provides correct information to the public. It requires some extra staff effort, but we’re accustomed to it and we want to keep it up.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WSchultzMtDemo.