A&A: Agendas and sufficiency of “brief general descriptions”

Agendas and sufficiency of “brief general descriptions”

Q: In accordance with Section 2.20.140(B)(3) of the Purchasing Ordinance, the City Manager is allowed to waive the request for proposal procedure and approve master professional service agreements with two firms pp to $100,000.

I asked that the item be pulled and rescheduled because it did not describe the services (HR/Personnel) that the contracts were for.  The City Attorney stated it was fine as is and did not pull the item.  Is the City Attorney correct?

A: Government Code section 54954.2(a) of the Brown Act provides that at least 72 hours prior to a regular meeting, the body must post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item to be discussed or transacted at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session.  A “brief general description,” as the term indicates, can be brief and general, usually satisfied within 20 words.  However, it must be a description, not a code phrase that is unintelligible to the public.

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.  The agenda description need not educate the reader about all aspects of an item, as it would often be impossible in any “brief” or “general” way.  But it does mean, among other things, that when it is possible to use a few words to alert the public to an obviously consequential or controversial proposal, a failure to do just that may violate the law if its effect is to leave those most likely to care unaware and with lowered guard.

From these general principles, it appears that the City Council provided adequate notice with respect to the agenda item described in your submission because it provides the public with information regarding the general nature of the item for consideration before the City Council (i.e., the waiving of the RFP procedures with respect to approving two professional service agreements for two named entities).  You could make the argument that the description was too vague because it failed to communicate the nature of the professional service agreements, but it is likely that a court would find that the City Council posted a proper description of the agenda item.