A&A: Council gerrymandering and the Brown Act

Council gerrymandering and the Brown Act

Q: I live in the small desert town.  The Brown Act does not seem to make it to this part of California.  Members of the council poll each other and make decisions before the council meeting, any item they deem goes to closed session and no report of what happened is ever given to the public.  Who is responsible to make sure closed session items are in accordance with the Brown Act? The mayor, the city council, the city attorney, the city manager or the citizens?  The city started a non-profit corporation in order to obtain a California Liquor License for use at the municipal golf course, would this corporation’s meetings fall under the Brown Act?  Would the reports that it makes to city council? Would the concession managers report?

A councilmember is being recalled and we just got four new council members at their first meeting they voted one of the new council as vice mayor (1 No) (5 Yes).  They went to Sacramento for class on good governance and when they came back the Vice Mayor resigned and nominated the councilman under recall and voted in (6 Yes ). I called one of the new council members and asked why they would do this with a recall over his head.  The councilman replied that had talked about it and decided that this would be a show of support for the member under recall, and he is the one that asked that the other member step down and let him be vice mayor.  Is this something that is approved under the Brown Act?  These things have been going on for years.

A: Under the Brown Act, the District Attorney may bring either a civil or a criminal action to enforce its provisions.  In addition, any individual citizen may also bring a civil enforcement action.

With respect to closed sessions, all the members of the council are responsible for ensuring they comply with the law.  In fact, any member of the city counsel who attends a closed session that he or she “knows or has reason to know” should not be closed is “guilty of a misdemeanor” under Government Code section 54959.

With respect to the non-profit corporation, if it is created by the city counsel in order to exercise authority that may lawfully be deleted by the council to a private entity, or if it receives funds from the council (or any other local governmental agency) and at least one voting member of its board is a member of the council (or other body subject to the Brown Act) who was appointed by the council/body, then the non-profit is subject to the Brown Act.

With respect to the discussions concerning the new vice mayor, a series of meetings, conversations or telephone calls among the council members to discuss and decide to support the member facing a recall by electing him vice mayor would appear to constitute a seriatim meeting prohibited by the Brown Act.