A&A: Brown Act Requirements and Prohibitions in Relation to Community College Governments

Q: This question relates to the Brown Act, which, pursuant to an Attorney General Opinion, applies to community college student governments.

Recently, the student designated to post the notice of our student senate (our legislative body) meeting failed, because of illness, to post it by 3 p.m. Sunday for a meeting the following Wednesday at 3 p.m., though all members and advisors received e-mail copies on time.

The agenda was late-posted by 9 a.m. on Monday (for the same Wed. meeting).

The agenda contains some important matters, including allocations of funds for upcoming events that were discussed and approved (to be official approved by the senate) by our fiscal affairs council pursuant to a properly noticed meeting.

My question is:  Does the failure to timely post the meeting (though posted 18 hours late) PROHIBIT us from meeting?

We recognize and acknowledge the problem, but we’ve done everything we can to remedy the problem by posting another notice (1) disclosing the untimely posting, (2) explaining the lateness and reason to go forward, and (3) providing notice that anyone objecting may appear to state their objection.

Nothing I’ve read in the Brown Act PROHIBITS the meeting from going forward.  While we certainly don’t want to break the law, it appears that the remedy provided by the Brown Act itself for an “unlawful” meeting or “improperly noticed” act is that an aggrieved party may object, then file a request to have the meeting actions invalidated.

But if no such objection or request is made, the actions taken, as I understand it, are valid.

A: As you noted in your inquiry, the Brown Act applies to community college student governments.  75 Cal. Op. Atty. Gen. 143.  First, with respect to whether you can meet with under 72 hours notice, one option might be to call a “special meeting” of the organization.  The Brown Act provides that “[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.”  Gov’t Code § 54956.  However, certain requirements must be met.  First, written notice must be delivered personally or by mail to each member of the board and to each local newspaper of general circulation, radio or TV station that has requested notices in writing from the board (unless any of these have submitted a written document waiving such notice).  Second, the notice must be received at least 24 hours before the time of the meeting specified in the notice. Third, the notice must specify the time, date and place of the meeting and the business to be transacted.  No other business shall be considered.   Fourth, the notice must be posted at least 24 hours prior to the special meeting in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public.  Gov’t Code § 54956.

Next, you asked whether the Brown Act prohibits you from meeting, despite not meeting the notice requirements of the Brown Act, and whether action taken at such a meeting would be valid if there is no objection to the notice given.  The Brown Act provides that “at least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda” describing the items of business to be discussed and specifying the time and location of the meeting.  Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a) (emphasis added).  Strictly speaking, it is therefore probably accurate to say that the Brown Act does prohibit holding a regular meeting with insufficient notice.  As for what would happen if you held the meeting anyway, you are correct that it would depend on whether someone objects or not.  The remedies under the Brown Act require that an interested seek to “cure and correct” an action taken in violation of the Brown Act, after which litigation may be commenced.  See Gov’t Code § 54960.1.  In order to make such a demand, the interested party must meet specific deadlines specified in the Brown Act, after which time no relief is available.  Finally, actions taken in violation of the Brown Act may be immune from nullification, when, among other times, “[t]he action taken was in substantial compliance” with the Brown Act.  Gov’t Code § 54960.1(d)(1).  It’s hard to say whether your efforts to make up for the late posting could be considered to be substantial compliance with the Brown Act or not