Brown Act Primer: Access to Meetings

Blue meeting icon copyI. Introduction

The Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code sections 54950-54963, referred to as the “Brown Act”) is intended to provide public access to meetings of California local government agencies. Its purpose is described in the Act:

“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, 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.” Gov’t Code § 54950.

In order to achieve this objective, governmental bodies subject to the requirements of the Brown Act must provide public notice of their meetings, post agendas of the subjects to be discussed at those meetings, and provide public access to those meetings. Public notice of every meeting subject to the Brown Act is required, and access is mandatory unless the meeting is held in closed session under a specific exception contained in the Act.

However, the Brown Act is complex, and problems often arise in application. The following issues come up consistently: (1) What kinds of public bodies are subject to the Act? (2) Has the public body properly given notice of the matters it intends to address in the agenda for the meeting? (3) What constitutes a “meeting,” and what kinds of communications among members of a legislative body are permitted outside of meetings? (4) Are the exceptions permitting closed sessions are being properly applied?

The following links will walk you through our summary of the Brown Act that aims to explain some of the intricacies of the Act that have led to both litigation and abuse by the agencies it governs and make it more useful to its users.

Part II: What public bodies are subject to the Act?

Part III: What notice must be given of a meeting

Part IV: What  is a meeting?

Part V: Closed Sessions  VI: After the closed session

Part VII: Enforcement of the Brown Act