Cities now have the option of becoming a lot more secretive—if they choose.
Last month, the state legislature suspended the Brown Act mandate that local jurisdictions—cities, counties, school districts, water districts and special districts—post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension also allows local jurisdictions to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.
How many California municipalities will choose to abandon the transparency mandates is unknown.
The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue next week, but the organization’s Communications Director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo.
“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”
How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.
So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.
No word yet on how Watsonville city officials and Pajaro Valley Unified School District staff will handle this change in the Brown Act. But the potential that government could get more secretive is a sensitive subject in Watsonville.
During Sunshine Week in March, a celebration of open government, . This issue arose again in June with , which bemoaned some city practices, including how petty cash is handed.
But according to watchdog Californians Aware, local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.
They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986—but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported Friday.
The suspension could last through 2015, so it appears the public will need to demand transparency from its representatives if it wants to stay informed.