A&A: Community College Senates, the Brown Act, and Secret Ballots

Community College Senates, the Brown Act, and Secret Ballots

Q: I am a member of a College Academic Senate, a body of 15 elected faculty members representing the faculty at large and governed by open meeting regulations, including the Brown Act. The Senate violated the Brown Act by conducting a secret ballot and a group of faculty brought a petition for a referendum vote by the faculty at large on the issue. The illegal secret ballot was then rendered null.  My question is whether the referendum vote by the faculty at large (also known as The Senate as a Whole) is governed by the Brown Act as well.  Must the referendum vote be open with signed ballots or a show of hands?

A: In a 1983 opinion, the California Attorney General concluded that meetings of the academic senate or faculty council of a California community college are subject to the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act.  66 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 252 (No. 83-304) (July 28, 1983).  It is not entirely clear whether the reasoning of the opinion would also apply to the Senate as a Whole, as the determination would depend on a fairly complex analysis of the regulations under which the various bodies are formed (one question is whether the Senate as a Whole ever was formally created as a kind of legislative body).  I note that at least one other community college in California specifically provides in the constitution of its academic senate that meetings of the Senate-of-the-Whole should be conducted in accordance with the Brown Act: http://columbia.yosemite.cc.ca.us/AcademicSenate/constitution.htm.