Q: The Department of Social Services (DSS) has a quarterly “advocacy coalition meeting” where DSS employees and legislative analysts offer status on current or pending legislation, and provide clarification of regulatory language or regulatory implementation policy and procedures to an audience of statewide advocacy organizations including consumer groups and Ombudsman’s offices.
There are no ground rules established at the beginning of the meeting that the meeting is ”closed” or that the state’s position on any given topic, as may be discussed or articulated by state managers are ’off the record,” may not be repeated, or are somehow protected speech.
Are these ”advocacy coalition meetings” considered ’open’ under either the Brown or Bagley-Keene acts? Can information and/or statements made by state managers or analysts during these meetings be legally used or discussed by advocacy organizations in their blogs? This coalition meeting also has a ‘rule’ that only one person from each organization can attend; is this allowed and can it be enforced under either the Brown or Bagley-Keene Acts?
A: As you may be aware, the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act is the state body counterpart to the Brown Act. Many of its requirements are similar to those put in place by the Brown Act.
However, the Bagley-Keene Act is narrower in its application than the Brown Act. This is because State government is dominated by executive agencies that are not required to conduct business at meetings (and therefore are not subject to the Bagley-Keene Act), and by the State Legislature (which is governed by a different set of rules than the Bagley-Keene Act).
As The Department of Social Services (DSS) is an executive agency that does not have a governing body subject to the Bagley-Keene Act, the agency’s staff is generally not required to comply with the law when they meet. However, the DSS, and any other executive agency, can create commissions, committees, or other similar bodies that are subject to the Act.
The statute indicates that the following types of state government bodies are subject to the Act:
(1) A board, commission, committee, or similar multimember body that exercises any authority of a state body delegated to it by that state body;
(2) An advisory board, advisory commission, advisory committee, advisory subcommittee, or similar multimember advisory body of a state body, if created by formal action of the state body or of any member of the state body, and if the advisory body so created consists of three or more persons. See Gov’t Code § 11121.
Without knowing more about how the “advocacy coalition meeting” was formed, I’m unable to provide a more concrete answer on whether the Bagley-Keene Act applies.
You also might try calling the Department of Social Services (DSS) to ask them directly, searching the DSS website for references to the coalition, and/or searching the DSS regulations for references to the coalition. You may also check to see if the coalition has a website of its own or if there is information in the footer of the emails they send out.
Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition 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.