A&A: Reporters wrongly ejected from community college council meeting?

Q: I am working on a story about how two of our reporters were ejected from a college council meeting. The chair of the committee believes that their body is not subject to the Brown Act. This committee makes planning, budget and policy recommendations to the college president.

A: The official student body associations of community colleges are subject to the Brown Act (see 75 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 143 (1992), an opinion of the Attorney General concluding as much, and Educ. Code section 72674 (requiring that the governing boards of “auxiliary organizations” of the community colleges comply with the Brown Act)).

If the college council is merely a committee of the official student organization or the board of governors, depends on cwhether it is also covered by the Brown Act at Government Code section 54952(b).

That section applies the Brown Act to committees created by formal action of a covered board. But “advisory committees, composed solely of the members of the legislative body that are less than a quorum of the legislative body” are not covered by the Brown Act.

“Advisory committees” are distinguished from “standing committees, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance or resolution, or formal action of the legislative body.”

Thus if the council was created by the formal action of, for example, the Academic Senate, the determinative issue is whether it is an “advisory committee” or a “standing committee.”

As the Brown Act indicates, if the council has a defined meeting schedule set by the senate’s formal action, then it will be a standing committee subject to the Brown Act. It will also be subject to the Brown Act if it has “continuing jurisdiction.” The Attorney General has explained that a standing committee will have “continuing jurisdiction if it has the authority to hear and consider issues within the parent board’s authority” (even if it is just consulted on administrative matters) and that its authority need not be renewed by the parent board. See 79 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen 69 (1996).

If the college council was rather formed directly by the president, instead of a governing body covered by the Brown Act, then the answer is less clear.

Bryan Cave 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.