A&A: Serial Meetings

Q: I’m an education reporter, and have been covering local school boards for years. I need to clarify the term Serial Meeting. Can two board members meet to talk about issues in general — frustrations, general strategies, how to counter personal attacks — and then have one of them meet with a third board member to discuss the same types of general issues? Assume there is no discussion of how to vote on action items — rather, it is a general conversation about how things are going. Can this be shared with a third board member, or does that constitute a serial meeting?

A: The serial meeting rule in the Brown Act provides that “any use of direct communication, personal intermediaries, or technological devices that is employed by a majority of the members of the legislative body to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken on an item by the members of the legislative body is prohibited.”  Govt. Code Section 54952.2(b).  The attempt to develop a collective concurrence as to action taken on a particular item is therefore a necessary element of a prohibited serial meeting.

Having said that, it is not always easy to determine whether a majority of members were trying to develop a collective concurrence on an item in a given situation.  The following cases might give you a better sense of how courts have interpreted the serial meeting prohibition:

Roberts v. City of Palmdale, 5 Cal. 4th 363 (1993)

Wolfe v. City of Fremont, 144 Cal. App. 4th 533 (2006)

Frazer v. Dixon USD, 18 Cal. App. 4th 781 (1993)

Stockton Newspapers, Inc. v. Redevelopment Agency of the City of Stockton, 171 Cal. App. 3d 95 (1985)