Alameda: Brown Act dispute surfaces over conduct of sunshine committee

Citizens disagree over whether the new Sunshine Issue Spotting Task Force is subject to California’s open meeting law that would require the task force to give the public adequate notice of its meetings. A member of the task force says that their last meeting was better advertised than city council meetings. -db

The Island
April 1, 2010
By Michele Ellson

You may not know this, but the City Council has set up a Sunshine Issue Spotting Task Force whose mission is, as far as I can gather, to create a sunshine ordinance that lays out some open government rules for the City of Alameda.

And why don’t you know? Because I’m falling down on the job, apparently, as are our city officials, according to one of the task force’s members.

The task force has had just one meeting so far, but it has already generated a shee-storm of epic proportions. Why? Because despite the fact that the committee’s sole purpose is to ensure that Alameda’s city government is more open, it’s apparently not subject to the state law that dictates basic open government requirements like providing advance notice of public meetings.

“Although the meetings can absolutely be in public, it’s not a Brown Act committee within the meaning of the Brown Act,” City Attorney Teresa Highsmith told the City Council in February when the members of the committee were named.

Jeff Mitchell disagrees. The former Alameda Journal editor-turned-campaign strategist and committee member (Mayor Beverly Johnson appointed him) told city officials he thinks the council intended for the task force to be covered by the Brown Act. He demanded the committee’s inaugural meeting be canceled until proper notice was given, participants said.

But one participant in the meeting said he posted a press release advertising the meeting on the billboard in front of City Hall in advance of the 72-hour deadline for notifying the public of an upcoming public meeting. And he said that local newspapers, bloggers and the heads of all the local business associations were informed the meeting was coming up. The city also posted a press release for the commission’s meeting on its website.

“This meeting was better noticed than a City Council meeting,” said Jeff Cambra, who had served as facilitator for the meeting.

The committee ultimately decided to meet as scheduled.

Mitchell also fired off a testy e-mail to some local reporters and editors for not caring enough to show up. (For the record, I was at home with a sick kid, though you can read Jeff Cambra’s walkup to the meeting here.)

In any event, if you’re interested in getting more of this political potboiler, I think their next meeting is on April 27 at the Main Library. And I’ll notify you in advance. Promise.

Copyright 2010 The Island