2003 The Brown Act: Open Meetings for Legislative Bodies - California

This California-specific "The Brown Act: Open Meetings for Legislative Bodies" is a document released by the California Department of Justice - Office of the Attorney General.

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THE
THE
BROWN
BROWN
ACT
ACT
Open MEETINGS FOR
LOCAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES
2003
California Attorney
General’s Office
THE
THE
BROWN
BROWN
ACT
ACT
Open MEETINGS FOR
LOCAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES
2003
California Attorney
General’s Office
THE
BROWN
ACT
Open MEETINGS FOR
LOCAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES
Office of the Attorney General
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Prepared by the Division of Civil Law
Chief Assistant Attorney General Andrea Lynn Hoch
Deputy Attorney General Ted Prim, Editor
State of California
Office of the Attorney General
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Throughout California’s history, local legislative bodies have played a vital role in bringing
participatory democracy to the citizens of the state. Local legislative bodies - such as boards, councils
and commissions - are created in recognition of the fact that several minds are better than one, and that
through debate and discussion, the best ideas will emerge. The law which guarantees the public’s right
to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies is the Ralph M. Brown Act.
While local legislative bodies generally are required to hold meetings in open forum, the Brown Act
recognizes the need, under limited circumstances, for these bodies to meet in private in order to carry
out their responsibilities in the best interests of the public. For example, the law contains a personnel
exception based on notions of personal privacy, and a pending litigation exception based upon the
precept that government agencies should not be disadvantaged in planning litigation strategy.
Although the principle of open meetings initially seems simple, application of the law to real life
situations can prove to be quite complex.
The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide a brief description of the Brown Act, along with a
discussion of court decisions and opinions of this office that add to our understanding by applying it
in specific factual contexts. We hope this pamphlet will assist both public officials and those who
monitor the performance of local legislative bodies to minimize and resolve disputes over
interpretations of the Brown Act. In recent years, both the California Supreme Court and the courts
of appeal have recognized the benefit of pamphlets issued by our office. This recognition by the
courts, along with many favorable comments from members of the public, strengthens our resolve to
continue producing reliable informational materials on the Brown Act and other California laws.
Publication of these materials constitutes a tradition of service that we value greatly.
Ideas and suggestions for future editions of this pamphlet are welcomed and should be addressed to
the editor.
Sincerely,
BILL LOCKYER
Attorney General
1300 I Street • Suite 1740 • Sacramento, California • 95814
Table of Contents
Page
INTRODUCTION
v
SUMMARY OF KEY BROWN ACT PROVISIONS
vi
I.
PURPOSE AND SCOPE
1
II.
BODIES SUBJECT TO THE BROWN ACT
2
1.
Local Agencies
3
2.
Legislative Bodies
4
A.
Governing Bodies
5
B.
Subsidiary Bodies
5
C.
Private or Nonprofit Corporations and Other Entities
6
D.
Hospital Lessees
7
III.
MEETING DEFINED
8
1.
Face to Face Meetings
8
A.
Conferences and Retreats
9
B.
Other Public Meetings
10
C.
Meetings of Other Legislative Bodies
10
D.
Social or Ceremonial Occasions
11
2.
Serial Meetings
11
3.
Individual Contacts Between Members of the
Public and Board Members
13
4.
Teleconference Meetings
14
5.
Writings as Meetings
15
i
Table of Contents
(Continued)
Page
IV.
NOTICE AND AGENDA REQUIREMENTS
15
1.
Regular Meetings
16
A.
Agenda Requirement
16
B.
Exceptions to Agenda Requirements
18
C.
Public Testimony
18
2.
Special Meetings
20
3.
Emergency Meetings
20
4.
Closed Sessions
21
A.
Agenda Requirement
21
B.
Oral Announcement Prior to Closed Sessions
23
C.
Report at the Conclusion of Closed Sessions
24
5.
Adjournments and Continuances
25
6.
Location of Meetings
26
7.
Special Procedures Regarding Taxes and Assessments
27
V.
RIGHTS OF THE PUBLIC
27
VI.
PERMISSIBLE CLOSED SESSIONS
30
1.
Introduction
30
A.
Narrow Construction
30
B.
Semi-Closed Meetings
31
C.
Secret Ballots
31
D.
Confidentiality of Closed Session
32
ii

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