California open government roundup: California legislature sports poor record on transparency

As the sun shines on Sunshine Week, recognizing the importance of open government, the California legislature is still operating partially in the dark. The legislature has exempted itself from the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law. A proposition passed by voters required the legislature to publish bills 72 hours before a vote, but legislative records are still not open to the public.  (The Orange County Register, March 12, 2018, by The Editorial Board)

A group of San Luis Obispo citizens slapped a cure and correct demand letter on the city council for acting without proper notice to alter an agreement with a neighborhood on the Anholm Bikeway.  (Cal Coast News, March 12, 2018, by Anholm Citizens for Open Government)

As the Novato City Council considered proposals for developing city property in the former Hamilton Air Force Base, they voted 3-2 to block the proposals from public view. The Marin IJ argues that it would be necessary to negotiate details such as the cost of purchases behind closed doors, but the city council should not field the opening bids in private. (Marin Independent Journal, March 10, 2018)

At the last minute, the Ridgecrest City Council pulled a casino project from the city council agenda, an act that one legal expert said was not a violation of the Brown Act but showed little respect for the spirit of law intended to work for the public. Many members of a local tribal council drove long distances for the March 7 meeting only to find the item pulled from discussion. (Ridgecrest Daily Independent, March 10, 2018, by Jessica Weston)

A kerfuffle erupted during a Tracy City Council meeting with the mayor and a councilwoman butting heads. Councilwoman Nancy Young was responding to a person speaking during public comment time as allowed under the Brown Act. But when Young spoke at length, Mayor Robert Rickman invoked CA law 54954.2, Section 3 that limits such responses to “a brief statement of clarification to factual issues.” Young claimed the mayor was trying to silence her. (Tracy Press, March 9, 2018, by Michael Ellis Langley)

A school certification official notified the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district that they had amassed a number of alleged Brown Act violations during the past 8 years of board meetings. The allegations included a failure to approve meeting minutes, not publishing minutes for the public in a timely manner and not providing sufficient time for public comment during board meetings. (Community Voice, March 9, 2018, by Katherne Minkiewicz)

James Hinton in the Napa Valley Register, March 7, 2018, criticizes the Napa College Board of Trustees for putting the needs of the public in a secondary role. He noted that the board should enter board members’ motions in the minutes and allow public comment after presentations rather than before. He quotes the board chair Mary Ann Mancuso saying, “Anybody who speaks to the Board, we are listening and hearing your comments. I also want to say to my colleagues on the Board that this is our board meeting.” Hinton referred  Mancuso to the Brown Act that states that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business.

Calaveras County pot farmers reacted to a recently adopted ban on marijuana farming by filing a lawsuit to void the environmental impact report, eliminate the ban and require a reconsideration of the ban. Others raised Brown Act considerations regarding public access to discussion between the board and staff and the failure to publish a memo to the five county supervisors requesting details of the financial impact of a pot ban.  (Calaveras Enterprise, February 22, 2018, by Jason Cowan)