Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today vetoed a bill that would have ended officials’ power to frustrate citizens’ efforts to address local councils, boards, commissions and advisory bodies. In his veto message, the Governor misstated both the nature of the bill and its impact on meetings under the Brown Act: “This bill adds certain procedures to the Brown Act, which at best will enlongate but in no way enhance the quality of debate at the local level.”
But AB 194 by Assembly Member Nora Campos (D-San Jose) added no procedures to the law. Instead, it prohibited certain all-too-frequent practices by local bodies such as:
- using up the allotted time for disfavored citizen speakers by interrupting and challenging their comments,
- forcing citizens to voice their comments on agenda items at the beginning of meetings before the body has heard staff’s presentation of those items,
- forbidding citizens from criticizing the actions of staff officials, or
- treating speakers with more or less accommodation depending on what they have to say.
Likewise, nothing in the bill would have “elongated” the meetings, since it left intact the Brown Act rule that local bodies retain full authority to determine the time limits for individual speakers or for comment on particular topics. That distortion echoes the objection of the principal opponent of the bill, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who wrote a personally signed letter voicing that argument when it looked like the bill might reach the Governor.
Interestingly, the Board’s meeting minutes for the last year contain no reference to a discussion of or decision to oppose the bill, suggesting that it was reached outside an open and public meeting. But the Board and the Governor showed a common level of respect for the open meeting law when they met in several unlawful closed sessions three years ago, under the pretext of discussing a threat to public facilities, to confer on the financial impacts of the Governor’s realignment of state prisoners to local jails.
Californians Aware sued to challenge these Brown Act violations, and when the Supervisors settled and admitted there was no legal basis for a closed session with Brown, they also released, at CalAware’s demand, a transcript of the sessions which showed, according to the Los Angeles Times, that Brown at one point joked to the others behind closed doors, “Let’s get our Brown Act cover story.” But the Supervisors and Brown had the last laugh. He later signed a bill they sponsored amending the Brown Act to permit Governors to meet in closed session with local officials—to discuss a threat to public facilities.