Public Official Event Attendance and Public Notice
Q: A City Councilman and City Clerk addressed the local Merchants Association without any public notice and with an “agenda” not made public and that other members of the City Council were not made aware of. The “agenda” presented was to suggest to the Merchants Association that a redistricting of the business district to allow for retail only. No service industries such as Real Estate, Insurance and Mortgage Brokers would be allowed. As a new business owner in the community who rents a space in a building owned by the city, I was not notified of the meeting or the proposed action. I attended the meeting after receiving an e-mail from a personal friend who over heard a conversation between the City Councilman’s wife and the wife of the Mayor. I believe this is at the very least an ethical breach if not a violation of the Brown Act.
A: The Brown Act 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, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.” Govt. Code § 54953(a). Such bodies should establish the time and place for holding regular meetings by ordinance, resolution, bylaw, or whatever rule governs the conduct of that particular body. Govt. Code § 54954(a). Special meetings can be held in certain circumstances, provided that the body provides written notice to each member of the body and to media outlets that have requested notice of special meetings. See Govt. Code § 54956. At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the body must post an agenda detailing the business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting. Govt. Code § 54954.2(a). A copy of the agenda should be available to anyone on request. Govt. Code § 54954.1.
A “meeting,” under the Brown Act, “includes any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body at the same time and place to hear, discuss, or deliberate upon any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body or the local agency to which it pertains.” Govt. Code § 54952.2. It sounds like the discussion you describe below between a City Councilman, the City Clerk, and the local Merchants Association did not involve a majority of the members of the legislative body — in fact, it sounds like the other members of the City Council were not even aware of the discussion. Accordingly, based on your description below, it appears that the discussion was not a “meeting” subject to the Brown Act and its requirements for public notice. Although the intent of the Brown Act is that public agencies deliberate and act openly, Govt. Code § 54950, conversations between an individual council member and constituents probably don’t violate the Brown Act, provided that the council members are not deliberating among themselves or taking action behind the scenes.
You also indicated that you are attending a meeting of the City Council tonight. This meeting should be subject to the Brown Act, and an agenda should have been posting detailing the business to be discussed tonight.