A&A: Councilmembers May Have Met Privately to Agree on Vote Outcome

Q: The City Council recently placed a rent control measure on the November ballot, and one of the Councilmembers who suggested a change to it before it was voted on, told an online newspaper:

“[The Councilmember] said deals had been made to line up enough votes for that 15-year timeline, but “I saw an opportunity to jump in” and call a vote on extending it.”

This sounds to me like a possible case of the majority of the Council working together in private to agree to pass legislation without public access. I am running for officer in November against this councilmember and if she and other Councilmembers violated the Act, the voters have a right to know about that.

If you can give me any feedback on this, I would appreciate it.

A: It sounds like you are concerned that discussions related to the ballot measure took place outside of the city council meeting.  Whether or not this violates the Brown Act depends on whether these discussions involved a majority of the members of the city council. You might want to review the FAC’s primer on the Brown Act, specifically the section on what constitutes a “serial meeting.”  This could help you determine whether or not such a meeting might have taken place that resulted in concurrence on this issue outside of a properly notice and agendized meeting.

If you believe there was a violation of the Brown Act, the first step would be to write to the council demanding that it nullify its vote.  Gov’t Code § 54960.1(a). If the
council refuses to cure and correct its action, you could bring a lawsuit to nullify the vote, and if successful, you may be entitled to attorneys’ fees. The details of this enforcement procedure are set out in § 54960.1(a) of the Government Code. Note there are strict deadlines under the Government Code with respect to this particular procedure for seeking judicial action to nullify a vote.

A sample Brown Act cure and correct letter may be found here:

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 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.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.