Part of Brown Act Suspended; Guv’s Initiative Contains Clause on Removing Reimbursements
In the past few years the state has threatened to suspend provisions of the Brown Act that require local governments to be reimbursed for enforcing the open meetings law.
Notably the state already owes local governments millions of dollars for enacting the state mandate, and while in the past it has backed away from completely wiggling its way out of payments, that is no longer the case under the recently passed state budget. Legislators suspended requirements for cities and counties when it comes to posting agendas and disclosing decisions made in closed sessions in order to wring out additional savings.
Despite the change, local officials have noted that they plan to keep following the law’s provisions. The Press Enterprise notes, “Officials with cities and other local governments said they will cover the costs, which can run into the hundreds of thousands per year, depending on the agency. Riverside County’s last annual bill was $236,414.”
Since reimbursements from the state have been spotty as it is, the suspension of the law is not expected to produce much in the way of change from the status quo. San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford commented the following: “We are dedicated to openness, transparency, public involvement and community participation, regardless of state’s unwillingness or inability to stand by the rules.”
Notably, if voters pass the governor’s tax hike initiative, there is a clause that will make the Brown Act’s provisions mandatory again, but the key point is that they would be mandatory regardless of state reimbursements. An editorial from the Reporter notes that “The fact that voters will practically need a law degree to spot this clause in the measure speaks volumes for the need for more transparency at the state level.”