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Asked & Answered

A&A is a searchable database of questions posed by users like you about their rights under open government laws and First Amendment safeguards that have been answered by FAC’s attorneys—all First Amendment and government access specialists at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, an international law firm with offices in San Francisco.

A&A: How Do We Make a Community Service District Board Comply with the Brown Act?

Q: Community Service District (CSD) Board members have been in violation of the Brown Act. I have requested multiple policies, procedures and manuals from the CSD by email and verbally, and have received none. Our board members closed the Volunteer Fire Department and changed the locks without consulting our Fire Chief. No meetings dates, no agendas, nor anything about the actions of the board except for Fire Department issues are posted on the CSD website. I have also asked for financial reports for our fire department on multiple occasions by email, verbal, and meetings and have not received them. How

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A&A: Are Protesters Vulnerable to Arrest Under COVID-19 Ordinance Banning Public Gatherings?

Q: My county passed a COVID-19 public ordinance stating that citizens are prohibited from participating in public gatherings and can be fined or arrested for doing such. With the protests happening across the city, I can see this being an issue that could lead to many protester arrests that would have otherwise been peaceful. I have emailed the director of County Health Services and the Chief Administrative Officer who signed off on this ordinance to please clarify if protesters will be violating this ordinance since it is not clarified in the legal document itself. Also, this ordinance was not publicized

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A&A: Is It Legal to Exclude the Public From a Regularly Scheduled Public Meeting?

Q: We were prevented from entering the County Board of Supervisors Meeting in California where they were deciding whether to open up the county after the coronavirus shutdown. One man was detained for attempting to enter the building. Is it legal for the board of Supervisors to prevent the general public from attending a regularly scheduled board meeting? A: As a general matter, the public must be permitted to attend any meeting governed by the Brown Act. Cal. Gov. Code § 54953(a). However, in March, Governor Newsom issued executive orders N-25-20 and N-29-20, which temporarily suspended any Brown Act requirements “expressly or impliedly requiring the physical presence of

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A&A: Must An Agency Provide Translation Services for Board Members Who Need Them?

Q: We work with a number of local water boards. Community Service Districts and Public Utility Districts. which are required to comply with the Brown Act. The boards we work with are typically in disadvantaged communities, where Spanish is the language of a large number of residents (if not the majority). I have been trying to find some law on what translation services are required for board members who are monolingual. A: I’m not aware of any law that requires local agencies to arrange for translation services for its board members, but the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act (Government Code section

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A&A: How Do Citizens Know If Agenda Items Meet the Criteria for Closed Sessions Discussion?

Q: How does a member of the public know if matters taken up in the closed session portion of a meeting of a state body qualify under relevant law to be so classified? Do we have to take the agency’s word for it? At meeting this year of a committee of CalPERS pension fund, many topics that for years have been taken up in open meetings were moved to the closed meetings. This is an abrupt change. Prior to the meeting, when asked about the change in the agenda, a representative of CalPERS responded that: “One of the key questions

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A&A: Multiple Requests to Pull Item off Consent Agenda Overridden by County Supervisors

Q: If a County Supervisor stuffs an item back onto the Consent Agenda during a closed-door meeting, do I have a legitimate complaint that can be brought to the Fair Political Practices Commission? A: The California Fair Political Practices Commission is the state agency tasked with enforcement of California’s Political Reform Act, and primarily concerns itself with the conduct of political campaigns and elections. Your situation is more likely to be covered under the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act, Cal. Gov. Code § 54950 et seq., which generally requires that local legislative bodies transact the public’s business at noticed, open,

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