A&A: Unauthorized meetings and communication between members of a legislative body

Q: This situation refers to a California Community College which is part of a large Community College District. The president of the Senate was picked up at her house by the president of the college and accompanied to a meeting which was held at the house of a faculty member from one of the other colleges in our district. The meeting was held in a city that is outside of our college district.  The Senate President was told that the meeting was a secret, and she was not to tell anyone about it. Not only was there no publication of this meeting, the people in attendance were there by invitation and the agenda was a secret. Ground rules were laid. No policy was to be made.

However, the college president promised to get back to a group in attendance with a response to their demands.  It seems that if the major leaders at all levels meet with this group to then decide on what action to take, and this action affects employees, this should be a public meeting.Does this meeting violate the Brown Act? What type of recourse is there for holding a secret meeting?

A: The Brown Act defines “meeting” as “any 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.”  Cal. Govt. Code Section 54952.2(a).  It is not clear from your message whether the individuals who attended the meeting on January 23 are members of a legislative body or, if they are, whether the individuals present constituted a majority of that legislative body.  Accordingly, the Brown Act may not apply to the gathering you describe.

You should also be aware that the Brown Act prohibits “any use of direct communication, personal intermediaries, or technological devices that is employed by a majority of the members of the legislative body to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken on an item by the members of the legislative body.”  Cal. Govt. Code Section 54952.2(b).  Again, however, meetings and communications among individuals who do not constitute a majority of a legislative body do not implicate the Brown Act.If there has been or will be a violation of the Brown Act, legal action can be taken to prevent an impending violation or to nullify any action taken in violation of the Act.  See Cal. Govt. Code Section 54960 – 54960.1.