Brown Act Primer: Notice of a Meeting

Access to MeetingsIII. What notice must be given of a public meeting?

A. Advance notice of meetings must be provided:

Regular meetings must be noticed through the posting of an agenda at least 72 hours before the meeting. (You may request that a copy of the agenda and “all documents constituting the agenda packet” be mailed to you. They will be mailed when the agenda is posted or when it is distributed to a majority of the legislative body, whichever is first. The agency may charge a fee for mailing the materials, not to exceed the cost of providing the mailing service.)

Special meetings may be called, but only upon 24 hours notice to each local newspaper of general circulation, radio or television station that has in writing requested notice. The notice must be posted in a location freely accessible to the public. Only the business specified for discussion at the special meeting may be addressed.

Emergency meetings may be called under specific, drastic circumstances (“work stoppage, crippling activity, or other activity that severely impairs public health, safety, or both, as determined by a majority of the members of the legislative body”). The 24 hour notice is not necessary, but a 1 hour notification of those media requesting notice is necessary if possible.

B. The agenda must contain a brief description of each item of business to be transacted (generally not to exceed 20 words).

Agenda descriptions must not be misleading. According to the California Attorney General’s guide to the Brown Act, “the purpose of the brief general description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that they can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting of the body.” For example, using the agenda item “flood control” to refer to a discussion on a request to Congress to exempt a certain stream from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would be clearly inadequate.

Closed session items must be included on the agenda.

(a) They must be described with enough particularity to protect the confidentiality of the subject to be discussed, but at the same time provide the public with a general idea of the topic being discussed in closed session. (See the discussion below of what must be included for specific exemptions.)

(b) The Act actually spells out the recommended content of closed session agenda notices, and provides a “safe harbor” ensuring that government agencies will not be in violation of the agenda requirements of the Act if they follow the recommended format.

C. No action can be taken on items not on the agenda, except:

  1. Brief responses to public testimony.
  2. Requests for clarification from or references of matters to staff.
  3. Brief reports on personal activities.
  4. When there is an emergency (see above).
  5. When two-thirds of the legislative body agree there is a need to take immediate action on a matter about which the body could not have been aware earlier (see above).
    NOTES

7. Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a).
8. Gov’t Code § 54954.1.
9. Gov’t Code § 54956.
10. Gov’t Code § 54956.5.
11. Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a).
12. The Brown Act, Open Meetings For Local Legislative Bodies, Office of the Attorney General, 2003, at
pp. 16-17.
13 See 67 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 84 (1984) (construing Bagley-Keene Act).
14. Gov’t Code §§ 54954.2(a), 54957.7(a).
15. Gov’t Code § 54954.5.

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7. Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a).
8. Gov’t Code § 54954.1.
9. Gov’t Code § 54956.
10. Gov’t Code § 54956.5.
11. Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a).
12. The Brown Act, Open Meetings For Local Legislative Bodies, Office of the Attorney General, 2003, at pp. 16-17.
13 See 67 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 84 (1984) (construing Bagley-Keene Act).
14 Gov’t Code §§ 54954.2(a), 54957.7(a).
15. Gov’t Code § 54954.5.