Internal Decision-Making and the Brown Act
Q: After a city planning meeting, I was outside with the City manager and another neighbor talking about the meeting. It was in regards to building a complex by the river that runs threw our town. We (the neighborhood) are apposed to the complex and the meeting was to address that. She told us it did not matter, and that it was going to pass anyway, despite of our complaints. Is that a Brown Act violation?
A: In general, the Brown Act attempts to balance the right of the public to be aware of the business of its government against the need of government agencies to conduct their business. The Brown Act therefore is concerned primarily with the openness of meetings, and provides that “[a]ll meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency.” Cal. Govt Code Section 54953.(a). The Brown Act also governs agendas for such meetings. However, beyond ensuring that meetings are open and that the public has notice of the topics to be addressed, the Brown Act generally does not control the internal decision-making of a local agency. In this case, I am not aware of any reason that the Brown Act or similar law would be implicated by this decision by the city manager or committee regarding whether or not to listen or react to complaints.
If the meeting in question was a meeting of the city council, it may be helpful to know that Government Code Section 36813 provides that “[t]he council may establish rules for the conduct of its proceedings.” The city’s bylaws, charter, or other governing rules may be the best source of information regarding whether — and how — the city manager or city planners are required to take into account the views of the public. These documents may also provide information regarding whether you and other citizens have any recourse regarding decisions related to the building of the complex.