Ad hoc committees under the Brown Act
Q: Our city council is creating a council “ad hoc” subcommittee derived of two of its members over the issue of economic revitalization. An “ad hoc” council subcommittee is by definition one that does not have to allow the public to attend its meetings. In our city, these “ad hoc” council subcommittees often have special meetings with target groups and in essence end up being propaganda machines or special interest mechanisms. My question is at what political or length of time threshold (economic revitalization seems like a non-temporary issue to me) is an issue no longer a candidate for ad hoc committees, but for regular “standing” subcommittees that the public can attend? Is there a law about this?
A: Your question, in essence, seems to boil down to this: When does an “ad hoc” committee of the City Council, which is except from complying with the Brown Act (because its only members are less than a quorum of the City Council), become a “standing committee” of the City Council that must comply with the Brown Act (because it has “continuing subject matter jurisdiction”)?
It appears that you may have a good argument that the City Council is trying to disguise its standing committees as ad hoc committees to avoid complying with the Brown Act. If the committee meets on a regular fixed-meeting basis, it is a standing committee under the Brown Act.
Even where a purported ad hoc committee meetings infrequently and not on a regular basis, the Attorney General has said that if the committee has the authority to hear and consider issues within the subject matter jurisdiction of the City Council, and the committee’s authority does not need to be periodically renewed (ie, it is open-ended), the committee may be subject to the Brown Act. 79 Op. Atty Gen. Cal. 69 (1996) (you can find this opinion on the California Attorney General’s web site by searching for opinion number 95-614).