November 15, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRESNO, Calif. — Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the First Amendment Coalition sued the city of Fresno for holding secret budget negotiations in violation of the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law. The lawsuit asks the court to order Fresno to comply with the Brown Act’s open meeting, notice, and public comment requirements.
Since at least 2018, the Fresno City Council has had a Budget Committee that negotiated the city’s annual budget behind closed doors, violating California’s law on open public meetings and depriving the people of their fundamental right to transparency in local government. The City’s proposed budget is then typically rubber-stamped by the City Council.
For example, during Fresno’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget process, the Budget Committee — composed of three of the seven councilmembers — made more than 75 changes and amendments to the proposed budget, totaling almost $30 million. These changes were made without any notice to, or input from, the public.
The Budget Committee’s chronic failure to meet in public, post an agenda, and provide the public with an opportunity to comment during the budget committee meetings violates the Brown Act, a cornerstone of open government in California.
“Transparency and public participation in public meetings, especially those involving decisions on Fresno’s record-breaking $1.87 billion budget, are crucial for a thriving democracy. That’s why we’re suing Fresno over its secret Budget Committee,” said Angélica Salceda, Director, Democracy and Civic Engagement Program, ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
Before filing suit, ACLU and FAC sent Fresno a letter demanding the city stop crafting its annual budget in secret. Instead of agreeing to stop violating the Brown Act, Fresno doubled down on its secret meetings, exposing the city to legal action.
“We’re disappointed that Fresno is choosing to keep its budget committee secret,” said David Loy, Legal Director, First Amendment Coalition. “The law requires the city to make Budget Committee meetings open to the public so community members are empowered to engage in the democratic process and hold their representatives accountable. When Fresno residents can see and understand how budget decisions are made, it fosters confidence in the integrity of their local government.”