Even though the state of California has suspended parts of a law requiring cities to post agendas 72 hours before a meeting, both the Lodi and Galt city councils have agreed they will continue doing so in the name of transparency.
The Lodi City Council voted unanimously on a resolution Wednesday night saying they still plan to follow the Brown Act during the next three years although parts of the law are on hold.
"It's sending a message to our citizens that the city of Lodi will continue to operate with transparency and open and honest government," Mayor JoAnne Mounce said in an interview before the meeting. "We want to engage our citizens in an open process. The last thing we want to do is shut you out by not complying with the Brown Act."
With the suspension of the law, Mounce worries the state will put last-minute bills or items on agendas.
"It means they can vote on whatever they want without public review, and for me, that's a scary thought," she said.
The Galt City Council also unanimously agreed to continue following the law at its August 6 meeting.
On June 27, the state Assembly and Senate both approved new budget bills. One of the changes was suspending parts of the Brown Act for the next three years.
The Brown Act, which is commonly called California's Open Meeting Law, guarantees that meetings of public commission, boards, councils and other local agencies are open and held in front of the public. It was adopted in 1953 and was named after its author, California Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown.
The two bills changed the act in five ways:
- Agencies are no longer required to prepare and post an agenda at least 72 hours before a meeting that contains a description of each item to be discussed or voted on at the meeting.
- Agendas no longer have to include a brief description of all items discussed in closed session, which is not open to the public.
- Items that will be discussed in closed session no longer have to be disclosed in an open meeting before the closed session.
- Actions or votes taken during a closed session no longer have to be reported to the public in open session.
- Certain closed session documents the public could request in the past no longer have to be provided.
Mounce said all of these provisions are a way for the state to avoid being accountable.
"The state is saying to the public, 'We don't care that you follow up. We don't want a second eye,'" she said.
The League of California Cities and the City Clerks Association of California have both committed to continuing to follow the Brown Act.
"The California City Clerks Association is committed to open and transparent government and will continue to adhere to all Brown Act requirements despite the suspension, because it is simply the right thing to do," Lodi City Clerk Randi Johl said.
The state suspended the mandates as a cost-cutting measure because it previously reimbursed local governments for expenses associated with complying. The last time the city of Lodi received reimbursement was fiscal year 2002, Johl said.
In 2004, Proposition 1A passed, which required the state to suspend mandates for which it refuses to reimburse local governments, according to the League of California Cities.
Parts of the meeting act were also suspended in 1990, but most cities still agreed to follow it, Johl said
At a Galt City Council meeting on Aug. 6, city attorney Steve Rudolph said the most obvious change will be allowing cities not to post agendas 72 hours prior to a meeting.
"The absence of an agenda would make it much more difficult for members to know what's on the agenda and to participate in city government and activities," he said. "Additionally, the absence of an agenda would run counter to what this council has made a high priority of: transparency."
Mounce said it is key that citizens have time to read up on issues, so they can decide if they support them or not.
"It's important that citizens and members of the state of California let their representatives know what backwards thinking eliminating the Brown Act does to transparency. It's tragic," she said.