Q: At a recent Town Hall meeting, water rates were discussed. A majority of directors of the water district were in attendance to answer any questions. They did not notice this meeting. Items were discussed that they will vote on. Is this a Brown Act violation?
A: Under the Brown Act, a “meeting” includes 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. Gov’t Code § 54952.2(a).
Members of a legislative body do not have to meet face to face in order to conduct a “meeting” or take action within the meeting of the Brown Act. In 2006, in a case called Wolfe v. City of Fremont, the Court of Appeal noted that “serial individual meetings that do not result in a ‘collective concurrence’ do not violate the Brown Act.” 144 Cal. App. 4th 533, 545 n. 6 (2006).
The Brown Act was subsequently amended in 2009 to supersede this holding from the Wolfe case. Now the Brown Act provides that:
“A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.” Govt. Code § 54952.2 .
However, the Brown Act does seem to provide an exception for meetings such as the one you describe.
Gov’t Code § 54952.2(c) provides that “[n]othing in this section shall impose the requirements of this chapter upon any of the following,” including, among other things, “The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at an open and publicized meeting organized to address a topic of local community concern by a person or organization other than the local agency, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled program, business of a specific nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.” Gov’t Code § 54952.2(c)(3).
Thus, it could be that, so long as the meeting was not organized by the local agency itself, and the members did not “discuss among themselves, other than as part of the scheduled program,” agency business, this particular town hall meeting would pass muster under the Brown Act.
Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.