A&A: Does Brown Act allow public meeting recordings to be destroyed?

Q: We are a small community of citizens trying to find our way dealing with a public board that we believe gave us no equal consideration. We are seeking assistance in requesting copies of e-mails from a county board. We believe that the decision made during a meeting was a result of a Brown Act violation that occurred prior to the board meeting.

Also we are trying to get a copy of the recording that was done during the meeting.   I would also like to know what are my rights to recordings that were taken during a public hearing and the board meeting and action at a county board.  My understanding is that these legally can be destroyed after 30 days. Can I request a copy; can I request to listen to the recording; can I during this time record it on my own device?

What can we do about a board vote that took place after a discussion on a subject that was not in the board’s power to decide? A 3-4 decision came after an argument over a subject that was related to the issue in from of them, but was already decided by the state board.

I sent a request this week that had questions about the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. We have taken the first step and requested copies of communication from 2 agencies in order to get to the Brown Act violation we believe occurred.
A: With respect to making your own recording, the Brown Act provides that:

[a]ny person attending an open and public meeting of a legislative body of a local agency shall have the right to record the proceedings with an audio or video recorder or a still or motion picture camera in the absence of a reasonable finding by the legislative body of the local agency that the recording cannot continue without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that constitutes, or would constitute, a persistent disruption of the proceedings.Gov’t Code section 54953.5(a).

With respect to obtaining a copy of a recording made by the agency, the Brown Act provides that:

[a]ny audio or video recording of an open and public meeting made for whatever purpose by or at the direction of the local agency shall be subject to inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act, but, notwithstanding Section 34090, may be erased or destroyed 30 days after the recording. Any inspection of an audio or video recording shall be provided without charge on equipment made available by the local agency. Gov’t Code section 54953.5(b).

In other words, all you should have to do is call the agency and ask for a copy of the recording (for the cost of duplication) or inspect the recording (for no charge) at the agency’s facilities. As you noted, though, the agency is allowed to destroy the recording 30 days after the meeting.

Finally, your last question below is what can be done about a board vote that took place after a discussion on a subject that was not in the board’s power to decide. It is not clear to me what the violation here would be (I may not be understanding the question). If the subject of the vote was within the board’s subject matter jurisdiction, then I’m not sure how any preceding discussion of a related topic that had been already decided by a state board would factor into any Brown Act analysis.

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.