A&A: Does the Brown Act Allow Consultant’s Report Reviewed in Closed Sessions?

Q: I am working on a story about a consultant’s work for the County. I was told recently that the Board of Supervisors heard a report in closed session last month on a pilot project the consultant had done. This has been a sensitive issue so I can understand why they’d want to hear the report privately, but I also can’t see any Brown Act exemption that would actually justify them doing it in a closed session. My editor suggested I contact you before following up with the county.

A: There are only a few exceptions to the Brown Act’s requirement that a legislative body hold its deliberations in public, so if the substance of the discussion surrounding the consultant’s report did not fall within one of those exceptions, then it may be this was a gathering of the majority of members of the board of supervisors in violation of the Act.  You can find a detailed list of exceptions to the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement on the here:

Even if this discussion falls within one of the narrow exceptions that permit closed sessions under the Brown Act, it still must be listed on the agenda.  Govt. Code § 54957.7.  In a separate provision, the Brown Act bars an agency from discussing or taking any action on an item not appearing on the posted agenda. Government Code § 54954.2(a), (b). Moreover, Government Code § 54954.5 sets forth the “safe harbors,” that is, the descriptions of closed sessions on the meeting agenda that will be found to satisfy the notice requirements of the Brown Act.  You might want to review both Government Code § 54954.5 and the agenda for the meeting where this closed session was held to see whether the public was given proper notice, as required by the Brown Act.

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.

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