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California Open Meeting Acts

California's open meeting legislation consists primarily of two statutes:
 (1) Local Agencies are governed by the Ralph M. Brown Act.
 (2) State Bodies are governed by the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Law.

Overview Statement:
    The Brown Act begins with a strong declaration of policy. The people of California do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. Accordingly, the Brown Act requires that the legislative bodies of local agencies, including city councils, hold their meetings open to the public except as expressly authorized by the Act.

    The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Law, imposes on state agencies open meeting requirements similar to those of local bodies under the Brown Act.

Additional Local Requirements:
    A legislative body of a local agency may impose on itself open access requirements beyond the "minimal standards" provided by the Act, and an elected legislative body of a local agency may impose those requirements on a legislative body that the elected body appoints.

Some Basic Definitions, in the Brown Act:
Local Agency means a:
    County,
    City, (either general law or chartered),
    School District,
    Municipal Corporation,
    District,
    Political Subdivision,
    Any Board, Commission, Agency thereof,
    Any other local public agency.

Legislative Body means a:
    Governing body of a local agency or any other local body created by state or federal statute.
    A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency,
            Whether permanent or temporary,
            Decision making or advisory,
            Created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body.

Meeting means:
    Any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body:
            At the same time and place,
            To hear, discuss, or deliberate upon,
            Any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction,
            Of the legislative body, or the local agency to which it pertains.

Action taken means:
    A collective decision made by a majority of the members of a legislative body:
            A collective commitment or promise by a majority of the members of a legislative body to make a positive or a negative decision.
            Or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a legislative body when sitting as a body, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order or ordinance.

The Brown Act Allows:
    (1) Individual contacts or conversations between a member of a legislative body and any other person.
    (2) The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at a conference or similar gathering open to the public that involves a discussion of issues of general interest to the public or to public agencies, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled program, business of a specified nature, within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.
    (3) The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at an open and publicized meeting organized to address a topic of local community concern by a person or organization other than the local agency, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled program, business of a specific nature, within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.
    (4) The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at an open and noticed meeting of another body of the local agency, or at an open and noticed meeting of a legislative body of another local agency, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled meeting, business of a specific nature, within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.
    (5) The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at a purely social or ceremonial occasion, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves business of a specific nature, within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.
    (6) The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at an open and noticed meeting of a standing committee of that body provided that the members of the legislative body who are not members of the standing committee attend only as observers.
    (7) Visit the office of the local agency's legal counsel for a closed session on pending litigation, when to do so would reduce legal fees or costs.

Brown Act Rules:
    (1) No legislative body shall take action by secret ballot, whether preliminary or final.
    (2) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.
    (3) Meetings of advisory committees or standing committees, for which an agenda is posted at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting shall be considered for purposes of the Brown Act as regular meetings of the legislative body.
    (4) No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights, In addition, on their own initiative or in response to questions posed by the public, a member of a legislative body or its staff may ask a question for clarification, make a brief announcement, or make a brief report on his or her own activities.
    (5) The legislative body may take action on items of business not appearing on the posted agenda under the following conditions, (Prior to discussing any item, the legislative body shall publicly identify the item).
             (A) Upon a determination by a majority vote of the legislative body that an emergency situation exists. An emergency situation means both of the following:
                         (a) An emergency, which shall be defined as a work stoppage, crippling activity, or other activity that severely impairs public health, safety, or both, as determined by a majority of the members of the legislative body.
                         (b) A dire emergency, which shall be defined as a crippling disaster, mass destruction, terrorist act, or threatened terrorist activity that poses peril so immediate and significant that requiring a legislative body to provide one-hour notice before holding an emergency meeting under this section may endanger the public health, safety, or both, as determined by a majority of the members of the legislative body.
             (B) Upon a determination by a two-thirds vote of the members of the legislative body present at the meeting, or, if less than two-thirds of the members are present, a unanimous vote of those members present, that there is a need to take immediate action and that the need for action came to the attention of the local agency subsequent to the agenda being posted.
             (C) The item was posted for a prior meeting of the legislative body occurring not more than five calendar days prior to the date action is taken on the item, and at the prior meeting the item was continued to the meeting at which action is being taken.
    (6) Application of Act to Elected Candidate: Persons who have been elected as members of a legislative body but have not yet assumed office must conform their conduct to the requirements of the Act and are treated for enforcement purposes as if they had already assumed office.
    (7) It is a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act for members of a city council (not members of the public) to hold a series of closed discussions with citizens having matters of business pending before them to gather or convey information regarding those matters where the discussions are held on successive dates & are so planned to insure that a quorum of the council will not be present at any given meeting.

Enforcement:
    A member of a legislative body who attends a meeting where action is taken in violation of the Act, and intends to deprive the public of information to which he knows or has reason to know the public is entitled under the Act, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Under certain circumstances, action taken at a meeting in violation of the Act may be set aside.

Notice and Conduct of Meetings:
    ( 1) Regular Meetings. The legislative body of a local agency must provide a time and place for regular meetings and must post an agenda in a public place at least 72 hours before the meeting.
    ( 2) Special Meetings. Notice of a special meeting must be publicly posted at least 24 hours before the meeting and must be mailed or delivered to news media representatives requesting notice. Only business specified in the notice may be transacted.
    ( 3) Location. In general, Regular and special meetings of a legislative body must be held within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction.
    ( 4) Local agencies may not conduct meetings, conferences, or functions in a facility "that prohibits the admittance of any person, or persons, on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex, or which is inaccessible to disabled persons, or where members of the public may not be present without making a payment or purchase.
    ( 5) Attendance by members of the public may not be conditioned on registering, providing other information, completing a questionnaire, or otherwise fulfilling any condition.
    ( 6) Public Testimony. At regular meetings, the public must have an opportunity to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item. However, the agenda need not provide an opportunity for public participation on any item that has already been considered by a committee, composed exclusively of the members of the legislative body at a public meeting where public comment on that item was afforded. In addition, the local agency may make reasonable regulations governing public participation, including regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.
    ( 7) The legislative body may not prohibit public criticism of its acts or omissions or of the local agency's policies, procedures, programs, or services.
    ( 8) Recording of Proceedings: Any person attending an open meeting of a local agency's legislative body may record the proceedings with an audio or video tape recorder or a still or motion picture camera, unless the body makes a reasonable finding that recording constitutes a disruption.
    ( 9) Broadcast of Proceedings. A legislative body may not prohibit or otherwise restrict the broadcast of its open and public meetings unless it makes a reasonable finding that the broadcast cannot be accomplished without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that would constitute a persistent disruption of the proceedings.
    (10) Video Teleconferencing. A legislative body may use video teleconferencing for the benefit of the public or a legislative body in connection with any authorized meeting or proceeding.
    (11) Secret Ballot Prohibited. The legislative body may not take either preliminary or final action by secret ballot.
    (12) Continuance and Adjournment. Meetings may be adjourned (Govt.C. 54955) and hearings held or noticed at meetings may be continued.

Allowable Closed Session Items:
    ( 1) Personnel Matters: A legislative body may hold closed, executive sessions during a regular or special meeting to consider appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of an officer or employee, unless the employee requests a public hearing.
    ( 2) Pending Litigation, (existing and anticipated):. On advice of counsel, a legislative body may hold closed sessions to confer with counsel regarding pending litigation, if an open session would prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation.
    ( 3) Labor Negotiations.
    ( 4) Real Property Negotiations: A legislative body may hold closed sessions to grant authority to its negotiator regarding the price and terms of a purchase, sale, lease, or exchange of real property involving the local agency if the property and the negotiating parties have been identified in a public session.
    ( 5) Disrupted Meeting: If a meeting is "willfully interrupted" and "order cannot be restored" by removing disruptive individuals, a legislative body may clear the meeting and hold a closed session. However, only matters on the agenda may be considered, and representatives of the news media who are not disruptive may not be excluded.
    ( 6) Security and Access to Public Facilities: A legislative body may hold closed sessions with various law enforcement officials including the Attorney General and district attorneys) on matters posing a threat to the security of public buildings or the public's right of access to public services or public facilities.
    ( 7) Grand Jury Testimony: The Act does not prohibit members of a local agency's legislative body from testifying privately before a grand jury, either as individuals or as a body.
    ( 8) License Applicants With Criminal Records: A legislative body may hold closed sessions to consider whether a person with a criminal record who applies for an initial or renewed license has been sufficiently rehabilitated. All matters relating to the closed session are confidential, except where the license is denied and the applicant challenges the denial.
    ( 9) Multijurisdictional Drug Law Enforcement Agency: The legislative body and an advisory body of such an agency may hold closed sessions to discuss case records of an ongoing criminal investigation, to hear testimony, and to discuss action in particular cases.
    (10) Liability claims
    (11) Report involving trade secret
    (12) Charge or complaint involving information protected by federal law
    (13) Audit by bureau of state audits