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By Miriam Raftery

December 8, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)—The public’s right to know what’s on the agenda for local government boards is now fully restored--thanks to a provision tucked within the fine print of Proposition 30, the tax measure to aid schools passed by voters in November.  

Back in July, the cash-strapped California Legislature suspended a section of the Brown Act that required local government boards to post agendas at least 72 hours before a meeting.  Because the law required the state to reimburse local governments for such costs, the state simply eliminated citizens’ right to know what actions government bodies had scheduled.

“Since the election, the Brown Act mandate is fully back in force and agencies can no longer claim reimbursement for mandated costs.  That's a side effect of the passage of Prop 30,” Terry Francke, general counsel at Californians Aware (CALAWARE) told ECM.

Proposition 30 gets rid of the requirement for the state to pay back local governments for the cost of running notices of public meetings in news publications. So now local councils, boards and commissions must foot the bill themselves for keeping the public informed about upcoming governmental actions—a right that is fundamental in our democracy.

San Diego’s County Supervisors in July assured residents that they would comply with the Brown Act even though it had been suspended. But in mid September, the Board gave open government advocates serious cause for concern. 

Supervisors announced the resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Walt Eckard, then named his replacement in the same meeting with no public notice, shocking government watchdogs. The County’s Chief Deputy Council Ellen Pilsecker justified the action in part by noting that the state’s open government law had been suspended. (Pilsecker further justified the action as allowable under emergency powers, even though Eckard wasn’t leaving until December 1.)

Restoration of the Brown Act assures that the County Supervisors and other local governing bodies must once again provide adequate public notice, or risk litigation – something that County Supervisors have already faced more than once in the recent past for taking actions in violation of the Brown Act.

If a government group fails to provide that notice, any member of the public or press has the right to ask that a meeting be postponed and that proper notice be given.

Below is the relevant language in Prop 30 (see page 16):

SEC. 4. Section 36 is added to Article XIII of the California Constitution, to read:

(c)(3) Notwithstanding Section 6 of Article XIII B, or any other constitutional provision, a mandate of a new program or higher level of service on a local agency imposed by the 2011 Realignment Legislation, or by any regulation adopted or any executive order or administrative directive issued to implement that legislation, shall not constitute a mandate requiring the State to provide a subvention of funds within the meaning of that section. Any requirement that a local agency comply with Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 54950) of Part 1 of Division 2 of Title 5 of the Government Code, with respect to performing its Public Safety Services responsibilities, or any other matter, shall not be a reimbursable mandate under Section 6 of Article XIII B.

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