This is Sunshine Week, a time during which we remind ourselves that the public has a right to know the public’s business.
All states have sunshine laws which require open meetings and open records. Thee laws allow for closed meetings and closed records, but only in very limited circumstances.
California’s sunshine law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, enacted in 1953, states this, which is pretty forthright:
“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 good for them not to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
The Brown Act governs local agencies, local legislative bodies, state agencies and state legislative bodies, including the Legislature.
Examples of these include the Madera County Board of Supervisors and all of its commissions and committees, the city councils of Madera of Chowchilla and all their commissions and committees, all public school boards and their committees and commissions.
All regular meetings and special meetings of these bodies are declared open under the law, whenever a quorum is present, and whenever a discussion of the public’s business takes place.
Only agendized items are open for discussion. Items raised that are off the agenda, such as those raised in public comment during an agenda, may be heard, but no decisions on any off-agenda item may be made until it is agendized for a future meeting.
Closed sessions, those not open to the public, are allowed for certain reasons, such as conferences with real property negotiators, labor negotiations and conferences with legal counsel.
The legislative body should publicly report any actions taken during a closed section. The Brown Act exists to protect the public’s right to know. Efforts to weaken it should be resisted.