A&A: Agenda item questions

Agenda item questions

Q: Can items labeled “discussion” be voted upon as action items? Does “other administrative items,” and “other administrative items, including delegation of tasks” adequately describe taking action on appointing an already appointed established committee as a subcommittee to this group? What is a definition of a “brief description” of an item as required by the Brown Act?

A: Government Code section 54954.2(a) provides that at least 72 hours prior to a regular meeting, the body must post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item to be discussed or transacted at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A “brief general description,” as the term indicates, can be brief and general, usually satisfied within 20 words. However, it must be a description, not a code phrase that is unintelligible to the public. The purpose of the brief general description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that they can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting of the body.

The agenda description need not educate the reader about all aspects of an item, as it would often be impossible in any “brief” or “general” way. But it does mean, among other things, that when it is possible to use a few words to alert the public to an obviously consequential or controversial proposal, a failure to do just that may violate the law if its effect is to leave those most likely to care unaware and with lowered guard. For example, vague generalized language is insufficient if it fails to communicate the essence of a specific and unusual proposal. If this was the case with regard to the item you describe in your second question, it would appear that “other administrative items, including delegation of tasks” may not have adequately described such item, and thus, it was inadequate notice. Similarly, if an item is labeled for “discussion” and the item was then voted upon, such item was likely not adequate notice to the public because there was no indication that action would be taken.