California Open Meeting Act

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The California Open Meeting Act is a composition of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which legislates local governments and political subdivisions, and the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which legislates the executive branch of the state, and the Grunsky-Burton Open Meeting Act, which legislates methods by which public meetings are conducted on the state level. Statutes 54950-54963 of the California Code define the Brown Act and statutes 120-11132 of the California Code define the Bagley-Keene Act. The acts state that:

"In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares

that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. 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."

As the three acts are slightly different, each section differentiates the acts as subcategories.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in California. For more information go to the page or go to California sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)


Lawsuit Year
Adler v. City Council of Culver City 1960
Californians Aware v. Orange Unified School District 2006
Cohan v. City of Thousand Oaks 1994
Epstein v. Hollywood Entertainment Dist. II Business Improvement Dist. 2001
International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union v. Los Angeles Export Terminal, Inc. 1999
Register Div. of Freedom Newspapers Inc. v. County of Orange 1984


Proposed open meetings legislation

2010

See also Proposed transparency legislation, Open meetings legislation


We do not currently have any legislation for California in 2010.

Which government meetings are open to the public?

Brown Act

The law defines meetings as any congregation or teleconferencing of a majority of the members of a local public body with the intention of deliberating public matters. The law also explicitly states that public bodies cannot use communication methods, like email, to circumvent the Brown Act.

Notable exemptions to this definition include:

  • The attendance of public conferences whose topic is governmental actions, so long as the members of the public agency do not meet separately but only participate in the conference.
  • Open and publicized meetings organized by private individuals to discuss public topics.
  • Purely social or ceremonial events, where the board does not separate to privately discuss public matters.[1]

Many local jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Contra Costa County, and Oakland, have adopted local "Sunshine" provisions that increase the access and openness to the public.

Bagley-Keene Act

The act defines meetings as all meetings of a majority of a state body and designed to deliberate, discuss or decide on any matters before the public body. The act explicitly states that the use of communication technology, such as email or text messages, to arrive at a consensus outside of an open meeting is prohibited. The act does permit teleconferencing, provided that it is conducted in accordance with the act.[2]

Notable exceptions to this include:

  • University collective bargaining and arbitration meetings with employee unions.
  • Public conferences, provided that the members of the public body do not separate to privately discuss governmental matters.
  • Open and publicized meetings, sponsored by a private individual.
  • Purely social or ceremonial meetings, provided that a majority of members do not separate to discuss public matters.[2]

Grunsky-Burton Act

The act defines meetings as all meetings of the legislature where a quorum of members is present to discuss or deliberate on legislative matters.[3]

What government bodies are subject to the laws?

Brown Act

The act defines "government body" as all legislative bodies of the local agencies and political subdivisions of the state created by state/federal statute or charter. This definition includes all subcommittees of local agencies, both permanent and temporary as well as all advisory boards. The definition also includes corporations that were either created and endowed with authority by the local governing body or are publicly funded and whose board contains one member who is also a member of the public agency or has been appointed by the local agency.[1]

Notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:

  • Advisory boards composed of only members of the public agency and having less than a quorum of members.

Bagley-Keene Act

This act applies to all state bodies, boards and commissions, including advisory boards and private corporations on whose board at least one member of a state organization serves in an official capacity as representative of the state and which receives funding from the state.[2]

Notable exemptions to this definition include:

  • The entire California judiciary
  • Local agencies who are subject to the Brown Act
  • The legislative section, whose meetings are required to be open under the Grunsky-Burton Act
  • The Cancer Advisory Council at any hospital, established by the Health and Safety Code, Statute 109260
  • The Credit Union Advisory Committee, established in the Financial code, Statute 14380[2]

Grunsky-Burton Act

The act states that the legislature including all committees, both standing and temporary, as well as "similar bodies," are required to conduct open meetings.[3]

Meeting process

Brown Act

The act prevents any public agency from collecting the names or requiring information from private individuals in attendance to a public meeting.

The governmental body must allow recording and broadcast of meetings, so long as the process of doing so is non-disruptive. They must let the public have access to any recording they took of open meetings, but the agency may destroy the recordings after 30 days.

During regular or committee meetings, the public can address a board that is subject to this act on any item in the agency’s jurisdiction that the agency did not address at an earlier open meeting.

All votes must be public without secret ballots. The governmental body must give access to the public to review documents distributed to all or a majority of members of a board before or at the meeting, unless the documents are exempt under the Public Records Act.[1]

Meetings must occur within the boundaries of the political subdivision, except under the following situations:

  • when complying with state or federal law
  • inspect property outside the jurisdiction of the political agency
  • participating in meetings with other agencies
  • if the agency in question has no meeting facility
  • meeting in a facility in order to discuss that particular facility
  • visiting legal counsel
  • School districts have the following exemptions:
  • Collective bargaining conferences
  • interviewing individuals outside of the district concerning a potential employment[1]

Bagley-Keene Act

The act prevents any public agency from collecting the names or requiring information from private individuals in attendance to a public meeting.

The governmental body must allow recording and broadcast of meetings, so long as the process of doing so is non-disruptive. They must let the public have access to any recording they took of open meetings, but the agency may destroy the recordings after 30 days.

During regular or committee meetings, the public can address a board that is subject to this act on any item in the agency’s jurisdiction that the agency did not address at an earlier open meeting.[2]

Notice requirements

Brown Act

The governmental body must post notice and an agenda for any regular meeting at least three days prior to the meeting, including any topics to be discussed in closed sessions. When someone requests a mailed notification, the governmental body must get it to them at least three days (72 hours) before regular meetings. The governmental body must post notice of meetings that continue from initial meetings. The posted agendas are designed to restrict the content of the meetings and no new topics, not addressed on the agenda can be included in the meeting. The act does, however, provide for emergency votes on items, where a two-thirds majority of the board decides that it is an emergency and that they must take immediate action.

Special meetings can be called with only a 24-hour notice and the posting of an agenda for the special meeting. Emergency meetings can be called with only an hour warning, if the emergency "severely impairs public health or safety."[1] The act requires that the public agency notify news media who had requested notification of emergency meetings one hour prior to the meeting.

If someone requests that they be notified of special meetings, the governmental body must deliver notice of special meetings at least one day in advance. In the event of an emergency meeting, the governmental body must deliver notice at least one hour in advance to those who request it as well as to the media.[1]

Bagley-Keene Act

The Bagley-Keene act requires public bodies to provide 10 days notice for all meetings, both in writing and online. The notice must include contact information for someone who can provide more information for the meeting, as well as the time, date and location of the meeting. Both open meetings and executive sessions must be posted with a list of what will be discussed at the meetings that provides a limit to the topics that can be discussed at the meeting. However, the act does permit emergency issues to be addressed without being included in the agenda, if two-thirds of the board votes that it is imperative. The act does allow special meetings to be called without giving a ten day notice when the public interest is in favor of action and the topic of the meeting meets one of the following criteria:

  • to consider pending litigation
  • to consider proposed legislation
  • to consider a new legal opinion
  • disciplinary action of a state employee
  • purchase or sale of real estate
  • license examinations
  • to consider actions on a loan or grant
  • to respond to final draft audits
  • to replace a resigned or deceased state officer[2]

The state is, however, obligated to deliver notice of special meetings to media outlets and any individuals who had requested notice two days prior to the meeting. Emergency meetings can be called with only an hour warning, if the emergency "severely impairs public health or safety."[2] The act requires that the public agency notify news media who had requested notification of emergency meetings one hour prior to the meeting. They must also post the minutes of emergency meetings within ten days.

Grunsky-Burton Act

The act requires that meetings be held "only after full and timely notice to the public," which can be determined by the rules of the houses.[4]

Executive sessions

Brown Act

Common executive session exemptions
Personal privacy (including employees)Yes.pngp
Attorney-client privilege/litigationYes.pngp
Security/police information
Purchase or sale of propertyYes.pngp
Union negotiationsYes.pngp
Licensing exams/decisionsYes.pngp
Exempt under other laws

A governmental body may close a meeting if the topics to be discussed are listed as exceptions in this act. They must still give special public notice and share agenda for the closed meeting. All actions taken and all votes in closed session must be publicly reported in writing or orally. They must provide copies of any contracts or settlements approved promptly.[1]

The only exceptions allowing governmental bodies to close a meeting are:

  • To discuss the appointment, employment, performance evaluation, discipline, complaints about or dismissal of a specific employee or potential employee. Employees can request meetings be public when charged or when complaints are brought against them. This exception does not include closing a meeting for general employment, independent contractors not functioning as employees, salaries, the performance of any elected official or member of the board, the local agency’s available funds or funding priorities or budget.
  • To discuss pending litigation that would otherwise prejudice the position of the agency if the discussion were public. The litigation must be provided on the public notice or announced in an open meeting unless doing this would jeopardize the board's ability to bring the litigation or charges to someone who has not had paper served to them yet or to conclude any current settlement negotiations to the advantage of the governmental body. For this exception to be valid, the governmental body must be one of the parties in the pending litigation, must expect to be sued based on certain specified facts, or expect to file suit.
  • To instruct the agency's labor negotiator on compensation issues. (Note: school districts are covered by the Rodda Act, which allows school boards to negotiate directly with the employee organizations, but provides controls that require them to keep the public informed of the issues under discussion).[5]
  • To discuss, with the agency's bargaining agent, price or payment terms for real properties. The parcel, negotiators and the prospective seller or purchaser must be identified on the agenda. Final price and payment terms must be disclosed when the actual lease or contract is discussed for approval.
  • To license applications for people with criminal records; threats to public services or facilities; insurance pooling.[1]

Legislative bodies are required to reconvene in open sessions after closed sessions and declare any decisions made in the closed sessions.

Bagley-Keene Act

The Bagley-Keene Act requires a two-thirds vote to convene a closed session for any of the exemptions below. The vote must be taken in an open meeting and the board must announce the topic to be discussed. The board can only discuss the topic announced during the closed session. The act also requires that the public body announce the results of any closed meeting when they reconvene after the closed meeting.

The only exceptions allowing governmental bodies to close a meeting are:

  • To discuss the appointment, employment, performance evaluation, discipline, complaints about or dismissal of a specific employee or potential employee.
  • To consider a confidential final draft audit.
  • To consider licensing applications
  • To determine parole cases
  • For the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board to hold a deliberative session
  • To discuss the purchase or sale of land with their negotiator
  • Eminent domain discussions
  • To consider the appointment of the executives of the Franchise Tax Board, California Postsecondary Education Commission, Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, State Board of Equalization
  • When the Franchise Tax Board or the State Board of Equalization is considering confidential tax returns
  • When the Corrections Standards Authority considers criminal records
  • When the State Air Resources Board considers information classified as trade secrets
  • The State Board of Education or the Superintendent of Public Instruction's discussion of testing materials
  • When the California Integrated Waste Management Board discusses trade secrets and tax information
  • For state bodies considering investment decisions
  • To discuss security related topics
  • For all meetings that qualify as attorney-client privilege.
  • For the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council to consult on emergency predictions
  • For the California Gambling Control Commission to discuss trade secrets[2]

Grunsky-Burton Act

The act allows the legislature to convene in a closed session in the following situations:

  • To discuss the appointment, employment, performance evaluation, discipline, complaints about or dismissal of a specific employee or potential employee.
  • Matters that affect the safety of the members of the legislature.
  • Matters that fall under the attorney-client privilege in the following situations, which must be justified in a memorandum that is to be released:
  • If a lawsuit has been formally initiated
  • If a lawsuit against the legislative body is reasonably anticipated
  • If the legislative body is expecting to file a suit
  • To discuss real-estate purchases[6]
  • Caucuses of one political party may always meet in closed sessions.[7]

If violated

The penalties of all three acts are the same.

Violations of the law are considered misdemeanors under California law. Individuals have 90 days from the alleged violation to file a complaint. Prior to filing suit, they are required to contact the public agency in question and request that they remedy the violation. The public agency has 30 days to act on the request. After the 30 days are complete, individuals have 15 days to file suit in court. The court may overturn any decision made in violation of the state open meetings act unless:

  • the act mostly followed the Open Meeting Act
  • the actions involved the sale of bonds
  • the actions resulted in a contract to which the other party has complied
  • the actions involved the collection of tax

If the legislative body in question corrects the mistake at any time during the trial, the trial will be dismissed with prejudice.[1]

See also

External links

References