A&A: Workshops v. Special Meetings

Workshops v. Special Meetings

Q: Today I walked out of a special meeting called in less then 72 hours which was labeled board special meeting/workshop.

It was just a workshop called to discuss how to deal with the media.

I asked for our attorneys opinion in this, and they felt that since we posted the agenda 24 hours in advance of the meeting it was ok, and no laws would be broken if we went ahead with the workshop.

My argument is that you don’t call for a special meeting for a workshop and then call it a special meeting, and do it less then the required 72 hours.

After I left, the board decided not to hold the meeting, just in case I was right.

The question is, is can a special meeting be called in 24 hours to just discuss routine subjects?

A: The first issue you raise in your submission is whether the workshop you describe constitutes a meeting for purposes of the Brown Act.  The Brown Act defines a “meeting” as “a 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 § 549523.2(a).  To the extent that the workshop was attended by a majority of the members of the board and communication concerning matters within the board’s subject matter jurisdiction would have taken place, resulting in a collective concurrence as to action that will be taken on an agenda item, the workshop may be a meeting for purposes of the Brown Act, in which case it would require notice and compliance with other Brown Act provisions.

As the Attorney General has explained:

“In construing these terms, one should be mindful of the ultimate purposes of the Act — to provide the public with an opportunity to monitor and participate in decision-making processes of boards and commissions.  … Conversations which advance or clarify a member’s understanding of an issue, or facilitate an agreement or compromise among members, or advance the ultimate resolution of an issue, are all examples of communications which contribute to the development of a concurrence as to action to be taken by the legislative body.”

The Brown Act: Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies, p. 12 (Cal. Atty General’s Office 2003).

Assuming such workshop constitutes a meeting for purposes of the Act, your next question is whether such workshop can be held as a special meeting.  Unfortunately, there is very little guidance on this issue.  At least one court has noted that there is no “legislative guidance as to the purposes for which a special meeting may be called.  The most obvious reason for such meetings might be that time-sensitive issues arise that must be addressed before the next regularly scheduled meeting.”  Frazer v. Dixon Unified School Dist, 18 Cal. App. 4th 781, 790 n12 (1993).  Section 54956, the section that provides for special meetings to be held, specifies only the notice procedures that must be complied with.  I have reproduced that section in its entirety below.

Section 54956 provides:
“A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the legislative body of a local agency, or by a majority of the members of the legislative body, by delivering personally or by mail written notice to each member of the legislative body and to each local newspaper of general circulation, radio or television station requesting notice in writing. The notice shall be delivered personally or by mail and shall be received at least 24 hours before the time of the meeting as specified in the notice. The call and notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted or discussed. No other business shall be considered at these meetings by the legislative body. The written notice may be dispensed with as to any member who at or prior to the time the meeting convenes files with the clerk or secretary of the legislative body a written waiver of notice. The waiver may be given by telegram. The written notice may also be dispensed with as to any member who is actually present at the meeting at the time it convenes.  The call and notice shall be posted at least 24 hours prior to the special meeting in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public.”

With respect to the notice requirement, however, the Brown Act does allow bodies to hold special meetings on only 24 hours’ notice, provided that the procedures described above are followed.