Cities now have the option of becoming a lot more secretive -- if they choose. But the cities of Cerritos and Artesia are continuing current practices dedicated to open communication and transparency when it comes to residents.
Last month, the state legislature suspended the Brown Act mandate that local jurisdictions -- cities, counties, school districts, water districts and special districts -- post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension also allows local jurisdictions to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.
How many California municipalities will opt to abandon the transparency mandates is unknown, but locally the plans are to continue serving the residents.
Cerritos Vows to Continue Current Practices
said the city's policy toward open government will remain unchanged.
"The city of Cerritos is committed to transparency and good government and we will continue to stand by and enforce provisons of the Brown act, whether there are portions that are enforced or not," Barone said.
She said that whether for council or commission meetings, the city would continue "reporting out from closed sessions and post agendas as normal."
"The city has no interest or plans on changing anything," Barone added.
Artesia Appears to Be Continuing to Keep Residents Informed
Artesia City Clerk, Gloria Considine, was unvailable for comment (she is on vacation until later this month, according to Deputy City Manager Justine Menzel). However, Artesia has continued to post its meeting agendas on the city's website -- a policy also employed by neighboring Cerritos.
ABC School Board Plans to Provide More In Depth Agendas
When asked whether the suspension of the mandate would affect the ABC School Board's approach toward providing agenda and closed session information to the public, executive administrative assistant Maria Machado -- who prepares the board meeting agendas -- said she believes the district will continue on with its current practices.
"In fact, now with Dr. Sieu (), we were planning to post even more detailed agendas online to get even more communication out to the community," Machado said. "So as far as I know, we are not changing anything."
The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue next week, but the organization’s Communications Director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo.
“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”
Why Is This Happening?
How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.
So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.
But according to watchdog Californians Aware—a group that tries to foster improvement of, compliance with and public understanding and use of, public forum law, which deals with what rights citizens have to know what is going in in government—local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.
They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986 -- but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported Friday.
Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has introduced a Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA 7) that would ask California voters if they want the transparency. The amendment is stalled in committee.
"To anyone who's been watching this issue for a while, the real news is not that the Brown Act can be so dependent on the state budget," said Terry Franke, a California media law expert who is General Counsel, Californians Aware. "The real news is that 17 people in Sacramento are denying the public the chance to say 'Enough'."
In the meantime, the suspension could last through 2015, so it appears the public will need to demand transparency from its representatives if it wants to stay informed.