Changing Regular Meetings to Special Meetings
Q: The local school district has changed its regular school board meetings to special meetings, and has switched the upcoming regular meetings to special meetings for the next 2 months. The board is not providing time for public comments on matters related to policies, programs or services provided by the district at the special meetings. Can the school district switch its regular meetings to special meetings for consecutive months and not conduct any regular meetings, effectivley precluding the voters from speaking to the governing board in a public forum?
A: Although nothing in the Brown Act expressly prohibits the school board’s actions in changing its regular meetings to special meetings, such action seems contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Act. 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. In order for special meeting to be called, 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.
The fact that the special meeting provisions allow for 24 hour advance notice, in lieu of the 72 hour advance notice required for regular meetings, would seem to support the notion that special meetings may be called only when there is a need to discuss or act on a matter that is too pressing to delay until a regular meeting. Here, the district is changing their already scheduled regular meetings to special meetings. There just seems to be no purpose for these actions — since the district can very well provide the 72 hour advance notice required for regular meetings — except maybe to preclude the public from addressing the governing body on issues other than what will be on the agenda for the special meetings.
As you seem to know, during the public comment period of regular meetings, the public can address the body on any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of the body, even if it is not related to any items on the agenda for that meeting. Gov’t Code § 54954.3. Thus, dispensing with regular meetings effectively precludes the public from addressing the body on subjects other than what is being considered at those special meetings. If the agendas of special meetings do not include items involving policies, programs and services provided by the district (which are the items you seem to want to address at a meeting), then you will be precluded from raising those until, and if, there is a regular meeting scheduled by the school district. However, again, because there is no provision in the Brown Act expressly prohibiting legislative bodies from doing what the district is has announced it will do, and because there is no judicial guidance on this specific issue, it is difficult to determine how a court would rule on such a matter.
Please note, you have the option to file a lawsuit under section 54960 of the Brown Act to try to have a court declare this activity as impermissible under the Act. You also have the option of filing an action under Section 54960.1 to seek to void an improper action taken at an illegal meeting. Before filing an action under this section, you are required to first seek to have the agency “cure and correct” the action taken at the improperly held meeting, and then bring the lawsuit if they do not. The requirements are very specific, they have very short deadlines, and they are generally strictly enforced. Generally speaking, the demand must be made within 90 days from the date the action is taken. However, if there is a violation under section 54954.2 (agenda requirements), such demand must be made within 30 days of the action. If the legislative body fails to cure or correct the action within 30 days from receipt of the demand, you must file the lawsuit within 15 days after the expiration of those 30 days. Please see the provisions of California Government Code 54960.1 regarding the particulars of the timeline.
Note, the procedures and time limitations set forth in Section 54960.1 do not apply to actions for injunctive or declaratory relief filed under Section 54960. See Ingram v. Flippo, 74 Cal. App. 4th 1280, 1288, 1290 (1999).
CFAC’s website contains a link to the statute for your reference: http://www.cfac.org/content/index.php