California school district adopts changes to comply with open meeting law

To comply with California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, the Fillmore Unified School District board of trustees changed its policies on banning recording of its meetings and their requirement that speakers to the board provide an address before making comments. -db
August 4, 2010
By Cheri Carlson

Fillmore Unified School District trustees have made some changes to comply with the state open-meetings law.

The district received a warning letter from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office last month after the office received complaints regarding the school board’s compliance with the Brown Act.

The board, however, already had taken steps to make changes before receiving the letter, according to President Tony Prado. The district responded to the letter and provided the DA’s office with more information last week.

In May, trustees told an audience member to stop recording a public board meeting. State law, however, allows anyone to record a public meeting unless doing so creates a persistent disruption, according to the letter from Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz.

The board also has required people to provide an address before making public comments at meetings. Nothing in the state law specifically deals with requiring addresses, Schwartz wrote. But because the Brown Act and board bylaws do not contain such a requirement, requiring it at board meetings “appears to be an unauthorized limitation on the opportunity for public comment,” he wrote.

After the May meeting, the district sought advice from its general counsel on recording meetings and has not restricted recordings since, according to a letter from the counsel to Schwartz.

On advice from counsel, the Fillmore board also will no longer require address information from speakers, according to the letter.

Prado said issues related to public comments are not fully addressed in the training trustees receive on the Brown Act — something he thinks should be changed. He wants people to feel comfortable making comments to the board, he said. Such comments can promote dialogue and keep the board accountable, he said.

Copyright 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co.