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A&A: Brown Act Compliance for Faculty Members Digitally Attending Academic Senate Meetings

Q: Our Community College covers a broad service area—including seveal communities and military posts. We post agendas in all locations (locked, glass front display cases) where the agenda can be access at all times, 72 hours or more in advance. We use roll call to identify all attendees, and roll call to identify all votes, though for approval of minutes and other non-controversial business we ask first if there is an objection, if we hear none, we state such and move on.

Many of our faculty teach online and may be attending from home. Our question then is do we need to ban attendance from home or via cell phones, which could be used anywhere, if the faculty are identified, and the public has the identified room location at each of the campuses where they may attend, see and or hear the meeting, since for any vote there is a portion of the attendees that are not in the same room, and are identified by name for each matter?

A: The Brown Act allows legislative bodies to “use video teleconferencing for the benefit of the public of the legislative body.” Government Code section 54953(b). The term “teleconference” means a “meeting of individuals in different locations, connected by electronic means, through either audio, video, or both.” Government Code section 54953(b)(4). A legislative body is permitted to use teleconferencing for any meeting or proceeding authorized by law. Teleconferenced meetings must comply with all Brown Act requirements—adequate notice, the right of the public to attend and speak, etc.—as well as other applicable provisions of law. Government Code section 54953(b).

Specifically, at least a quorum of the members of the legislative body must participate from locations within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency has jurisdiction. Each teleconference location must be identified in the notice and agenda, and each location must be accessible to the public. Agencies choosing to use teleconferencing must post agendas at all teleconference locations. Each location at which a participant in the teleconference is located must be open to the public, and the public must be able to speak at each location.  Members are prohibited from taking any action by secret ballot and must conduct all votes taken during a teleconference meeting by roll call.  Government
Code section 54953(b)(2), (3).

Your college may also have specific bylaws for video teleconferencing, so you may want to review those as well to ensure that your meetings are in compliance.

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. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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