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Capitola Stays Transparent Despite Brown Act Loophole

In an effort to save money, the state decided to suspend mandates that require local jurisdictions to keep the public informed.

UPDATE: It’s been widely reported, both at Patch and other mainstream media outlets, that a last-minute addition to the state’s 2012-13 budget allows cities and counties to skip Brown Act requirements that they post meeting agendas 72 hours in advance. In addition, the new rules allow local boards and councils to forgo publicly disclosing actions taken during closed-session meetings.

Here is Patch's orginal story.

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 this 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.

Capitola City Clerk Su Sneddon told Patch that in an effort to maintain transparency, there are no plans to stop posting meeting agendas online ahead of time on the City of Capitola website. 

During Sunshine Week in March, a celebration of open government, . This issue arose again in June with .

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.

Just One Vote July 18, 2012 at 02:50 AM
The way I understand the Brown Act, its primary purpose was to prevent municipalities and districts from making "backroom deals" that benefit only the politicians and officials "in the room" while the taxpayers foot the bill. The way I understand the state's decision is to allow the backroom deal" practice now because it "saves money". Why is the state now going to allow the public who supplies those dollars to be ignorant of how their dollars are spent? What happened to accountability for the folks paying the bills with taxpayer's money? Clearly, I don't understand...... government's funct
Jacob Bourne July 18, 2012 at 04:13 AM
A lot of people are having your same reaction, Geni. Luckily, for now, Capitola is staying above board and will still be posting its meeting agendas.

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