A&A: How does the Brown Act Apply to ‘Ad Hoc’ Versus ‘Standing’ Committees?

Q: Please explain how the Brown Act applies to “ad hoc” versus “standing” committees of municipal government-appointed commissions.

As a threshold matter, California’s Ralph M. Brown Act applies to any committee of a legislative body that is empowered to make decisions, rather than simply advise.  It is only advisory committees that may be exempt from the Brown Act. See Gov. Code section 54952(a)-(b).

As to advisory committees, the Brown Act applies to “standing committees,” but not to “ad hoc committees.”  

The challenge can come in defining which is which.  Under the Brown Act a “standing committee” is one that has “continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution or formal action of a legislative body.” Gov. Code section 54952 (emphasis added).

It’s important to note the highlighted “or” above.  If an advisory committee has a fixed meeting schedule, then it is a “standing committee” subject to the Brown Act.  But even advisory committees without a fixed meeting schedule will constitute a “standing committee” if they have “continuing subject matter jurisdiction,” for example if a city council were to create a committee empowered to address, e.g., homeless issues in an open-ended and continuing way – even if it does not meet on a regular schedule – then it would be a “standing committee.” 

The California Attorney General’s Brown Act publication sets forth a number of hypothetical examples that help illustrate some of the important distinctions here – see at p. 6 of the publication:

A city council creates four bodies to address various city problems. 

•           Commission comprised of councilmembers, the city manager and interested citizens: This committee is covered by the Brown Act because there is no exemption for it regardless of whether it is decisionmaking or advisory in nature. 

•           Advisory committee comprised of two councilmembers for the purpose of reviewing all issues related to parks and recreation in the city on an ongoing basis: This committee is a standing committee which is subject to the Act’s requirements because it has continuing jurisdiction over issues related to parks and recreation in the city. 

•           Advisory committee comprised of two city councilmembers for the purpose of producing a report in six months on downtown traffic congestion: This committee is an exempt advisory committee because it is comprised solely of less than a quorum of the members of the city council. It is not a standing committee because it is charged with accomplishing a specific task in a short period of time, i.e., it is a limited term ad hoc committee.

•           Advisory committee comprised of two councilmembers to meet on the second Monday of each month pursuant to city council resolution: This committee is subject to the Act as a standing committee because its meeting schedule is fixed by the city council. 

— David Snyder, FAC Executive Director