A&A: Incomplete labor exemption codes within School District closed session agenda

Q:I have continually requested the agenda labor exemption code be corrected for a closed session in our School District. The full exemption code is 54957.6(a), however they continue to list only 54957, leaving out the .6(a) portion. I believe accuracy would be better for transparency, and I want it to be legal as well. How can I ensure the school district employs the complete exemption code?

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A: First, let me commend you on trying to ensure accuracy and transparency in the School District’s posted agenda.

As you appear to be aware, the Brown Act requires legislative bodies post an agenda for all meetings:

  “At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session.  A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words…”  Gov’t Code § 54954.2(a)(1).

The description must be adequate and not misleading—according to the attorney general, “the purpose of the brief general description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that they can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting of the body.”  The Brown Act, Open Meetings For Local Legislative Bodies, Office of the Attorney General (2003), at pp. 16-17.

I agree that merely listing Government Code Section 54957, without any other designation, may be unclear.  Pursuant to Gov’t Code § 54957(b), a closed session may be held to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee.  (“Performance goals” would seem to fall under the umbrella of “evaluation of performance” pursuant to § 54957(b).  See e.g., Versaci v. Superior Court, 127 Cal. App. 4th 805 (2005)).  Pursuant to Gov’t Code § 54957.6, a closed session may be held to conference with the agency’s labor negotiators.

However, as Government Code section 54957 contains 11 sections (54957-54957.10), it is best to be clear about which section the District is citing in support of its authority for a closed session, especially since provisions of the Brown Act allowing closed sessions are to be “narrowly construed.”

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.