FAC, ACLU, Fresnoland Demand Fresno City Council Stop Secret Budget Negotiations

Yesterday FAC joined the ACLU of Northern California and Fresnoland in demanding that the city of Fresno stop crafting its annual budget in secret. As reported by Fresnoland, the city council’s budget committee has repeatedly met behind closed doors to finalize the budget in clear violation of the Brown Act, which guarantees the fundamental right to open government. 

According to Fresnoland, as the fifth largest city in California by population, Fresno stands alone in the top 10 by holding secret budget committee meetings. Although Fresno’s committee is technically advisory, it has the effective final word on the budget. 

As a city council member told Fresnoland, “there was not a lot of discussion or debate out on the dais” when the full council approved the most recent budget. The mayor admitted, “A lot of sausage was being made in the back room.”

The Brown Act is designed to prevent exactly this kind of backroom dealing. As the Act’s preamble declares, the people “do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

The Brown Act requires that any standing committee of a city council with continuing authority over a given issue, such as the budget, public safety, or land use, must hold open and public meetings based on an agenda posted in advance, with opportunity for the public to comment on any matter before the committee. If a committee takes on the same issue year after year, as Fresno’s budget committee has done, it’s a standing committee, not an “ad hoc” body, as the city has contended.

Our letter demands that Fresno must immediately stop ignoring open government law and begin holding budget committee meetings in compliance with the Brown Act, or the city may face legal action.