A bill recently approved by the Assembly Local Government Committee would allow majorities of city councils, boards of supervisors, school boards, planning commissions, special district boards and most of the related committees to meet online and reach agreement on matters they govern or advise with no notice to the public that such processes were taking place.
The Ralph M. Brown Act generally requires that the meetings of legislative bodies of local agencies be conducted openly. The Act defines “meeting” for purposes of the act and prohibits a majority of the members of a legislative body, outside a meeting authorized by the Act, from using a series of communications of any kind to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.
AB 992 by Assembly Member Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) would provide that this prohibition does not apply to participation, as defined, in an internet-based social media platform—”an online service that is generally open and available to the public”—by a majority of the members of a legislative body, provided that they do not “discuss among themselves” business of a specific nature within the subject matter jurisdiction of the agency. The bill defines “discuss among themselves” as meaning
communications made, posted, or shared on an internet-based social media platform between members of a legislative body. “Discuss among themselves” does not include either of the following: (i) Individual communications made, posted, or shared by one or more members of the body on an internet-based social media platform, provided that the communications do not respond directly to communications made, posted, or shared by any other member of the legislative body. (ii) Communications made through the use of digital icons that express reactions to information, ideas, or opinions by others.
A thorough and thoughtful analysis of AB 992 prepared by Angela Mapp, consultant for the Assembly Local Government Committee, raises as one problem with the exemptions in (i) and (ii) the fact that any council, board or commission, or its committee, could agree (secretly, that is) that any proposal put forth by one member to no particular recipient would allow all or a majority of all of the other members to respond by a pre-agreed list of emoji symbols signaling support, opposition, need for more information, etc.
An even more fundamental concern noted by Ms. Mapp is that no member of the public can monitor such “participation” for compliance with the Brown Act or any other purpose if they are unaware that it is taking place, any more than a body’s members convening in a physical meeting cannot be observed, much less addressed, if no notice to the public has been posted of the fact, content, time and place of the gathering.
AB 992’s next stop is the Assembly Floor, in which case alerting your Assembly Member about your concerns would be influential. Residents of Mullin’s district need not wait for floor action and can let the author know why he should withdraw it.