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A&A: Are state Task Force meetings covered under the Brown Act?

Q: The state has assembled a Task Force and advertises its meetings (quietly) but claims they are not public meetings. They’ve said I can’t attend. In fact I don’t even know whether the meetings take place at a physical location or are mere conference calls.

I believe they are public meetings because the Task Force is a body made up of members who are members of a state body.

A:  While it would be great if the government opened more of its meetings to the public, the Brown Act and the Bagley-Keene Act (which applies to state bodies) are fairly specific as to what types of meetings are required to be held in public.  Unfortunately, a meeting that consists of staff-level representatives from various agencies probably does not qualify.  That said, any records generated from these meetings, particularly those in the possession of any local agency (e.g., a county agency), would presumptively be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.  Thus, whenever a member of the public cannot attend the meeting itself, I always recommend they do the next best thing, which is to make a request for agendas, meeting minutes, and other materials that may have been generated in connection with any particular meeting.

As to your question regarding the task force that has been assembled consisting of members of a state body, it sounds like this particular body may fall into one of the following categories of “bodies” that are subject to the Bagley-Keene Act:

  • A board, commission, committee, or similar multimember body that exercises any authority of a state body delegated to it by that state body.
  •  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.
  •  A board, commission, committee, or similar multimember body on which a member of a body that is a state body pursuant to this section serves in his or her official capacity as a representative of that state body and that is supported, in whole or in part, by funds provided by the state body, whether the multimember body is organized and operated by the state body or by a private corporation.  Gov’t Code § 11121(b)(c) & (d). 

Note, however, that the Bagley-Keen Act does not apply to the Legislature.  However, state law requires that meetings of any committee of the Legislature be open and public.  Gov’t Code § 9027. 

It sounds like you may be operating in the dark as to both how this task force was formed, and what the makeup of the task for is.  You may want to make a Public Records Act request for any records related to the task force, which hopefully will give you more specifics about its makeup so that you can determine whether it qualifies as a “state body” under Bagley-Keene such that it is subject to the Act’s open meeting requirements.

You might also find this guide from the Attorney General useful in interpreting the Bagley-Keene Act.  Although dated, it contains helpful information on all aspects of the Act, including when a particular body becomes a “state body” that is subject to the Act’s open meeting requirements.

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.

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