1st Amendment News

Brown Act: Editorial opposes change to open meeting law

To save government agencies money, the Senate Budget Committee wants to suspend the requirement that agendas be posted 72 hours in advance. -db
Merced Sun-Star
Editorial
June. 11, 2010

The same money problems that saw 2009 become the newspaper industry’s worst financial year in history now threaten a key part of the public’s right to know.

The state Senate’s Budget Conference Committee wants to water down the power of the Brown Act.

That’s the law designed to keep official meetings open to the public and press so those bodies that conduct the public’s business can be held accountable for what they do in the public name — and with the public’s money.

Now that committee seeks to suspend a requirement that local government bodies post a descriptive meeting agenda 72 hours before a regular meeting and stick to it.

Today, the state must “reimburse the local agency for the cost of the new task or duty,” according to a letter from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, or CNPA.

The committee wants to try to save money by changing the required posting of the agenda — which would have to be paid for from state coffers — to “a best practice.”

Talk about nickel and diming.

These are the same folks who drove us into a $19 billion deficit ditch.

Now they want to gut part of the Brown Act that costs, according to CNPA, about $20 million a year.

In return, public agencies wouldn’t have to post their agendas 72 hours in advance so we, the people, could get a look at what they’re up to.

We’ve used this provision at the Sun-Star to find out that the former county executive officer was trying to slip a 10 percent raise for his wife, also a county employee, past the public.

When reporter Jonah Lamb wrote about it, the CEO dropped the raise request.

That’s just one example of how that part of the law protects the public interest.

The CNPA’s letter to the state Senate and a lot of other worthies notes that in 2004, 83 percent of voters approved Proposition 59, the constitutional Sunshine Amendment, “which created a new civil right of access to the meetings of governmental bodies and writings of public officials.”

Like the CNPA, the Sun-Star doubts that many voters would like to see the teeth removed from the Brown Act so our elected and appointed officials could go their merry way, minus public scrutiny.

For these and other reasons, the Sun-Star urges the state Senate to abandon this penny-wise/pound foolish misstep.

Leave the Brown Act alone.

Now, more than ever, we need its access and protections to guarantee open government.

Editorials are the opinion of the Merced Sun-Star editorial board. Members of the editorial board include Publisher Debra Kuykendall, Executive Editor Mike Tharp, Editorial Page Editor Keith Jones, Copy Desk Chief Jesse Chenault and Online Editor Brandon Bowers.

Copyright 2010 The MClatchy Company

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