Intimidation of Journalists

Intimidation of Journalists

Q: Our website lists an editorial by our publisher. The very first comment has come from a city employee (we traced the IP address) and the next few comments were probably made by the same person. They could almost be viewed as threats.

That along with a meeting recently requested by a city council member. When Publisher and Editor showed up he had unexpectedly to us invited another city council member and together the two then took us to task about questions asked of a third member by a reporter. They referred to emails from the third council member on their laptops and also with written and printed form. The story questioned alliances the city council members have with a large developer in our area.

Was this a violation of the Brown Act?

A: The Brown Act addresses meetings of the legislative body of a local agency, such as the city council.  So email from a city employee to the newspaper would not be covered by the Brown Act.

With respect to your meeting with two members of the city council, the Brown Act applies to “meetings” attended by at least a majority of the members of the city council to hear, discuss or deliberate upon any item within the subject matter jurisdiction of the council.  Assuming two members would not be a majority, the meeting itself would not be subject to the Brown Act.  The Brown Act also allows less-than-a-majority of council members to meet with other individuals (including journalists) for interviews or to hear and/or air their complaints.

However, if the council has 5 members and the email from the third council member went to both of the other two members and concerned “current issues under the [council’s] jurisdiction,” that would violate the Brown Act’s prohibition on serial meetings, according to the Attorney General’s publication, “The Brown Act, Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies” at pg. 15 (citing the Attorney General’s Opinion at 84 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 30 (2001).  However, it is not clear that council members complaints about an article written by, or questions posed by, a reporter about the members’ alliance with a large developer would concern “current issues under the [council’s] jurisdiction.”  It might.