A&A: I ask for transparency; they ask me to resign

Q: I have concerns that my school District has violated the Brown Act.  When the school board made our interim Superintendent a permanent Superintendent without any public input because it wasn’t properly agendized.

I am also concerned that a committee I serve on has been deemed a closed door confidential meeting per the Brown Act. I am an unpaid, parent volunteer on the committee and one of several stakeholders (parents, community, retired teacher, district employees and paid consultants). This committee was handpicked by the Superintendent and parents were selected as committee members to ensure transparency.

There are no school board members on the committee and there was no school board vote to create the committee, yet we are being told (after several meetings) that we are now an extension of the school board and the meetings and everything said in them is confidential. I am concerned California Education Codes and Public Contract Codes are not being followed and this may be the reason why the committee members are now being told the meetings are confidential to keep me from speaking publicly about what I have witnessed.

I would like to know if this committee is an open, public meeting versus a closed door Brown Act Meeting. There are no meeting minutes and no 72- hour posting of an Agenda, as required by the Brown Act. I have been repeatedly asked to resign from the committee and have been treated very badly because I am asking questions. I would appreciate any assistance you can provide.

A: You have two questions here:(1) The propriety of appointing the interim superintendent to the position permanently, and (2) the applicability of the Brown Act to the committee to which you are assigned. I will address each question in turn.

1. The Brown Act permits an agency to appoint a person to a position in a closed session. Govt. Code section 54957. However, prior to holding the closed session, the agency must notify the public in open session, on its agenda, or both, of the items to be discussed in the closed session. Govt. Code section 54957.7. According to Govt. Code section 54954.5, the suggested listing of such a session is

Title: Superintendent

The agency cannot act on the matter if the item is not noticed in this or a similar way. Govt. Code 54954.2.

2. Regarding the Funds for Education committee, the Brown Act applies to

“A . . . committee . . . whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution or formal action of a legislative body.”

If the committee fits this description, then it must comply with the Brown Act. If the committee was only formed by the Superintendent, then it would not be covered by the Brown Act. If not covered by the Brown Act, and absent some independent requirement in the Education Code, there is no statutory requirement that the committee open its meetings, or notice and agendize its closed sessions.

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.