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CA Brown Act Ensures Public Decision-Making is Public

Named for California state assemblyman Ralph M. Brown and enacted in 1953, the Brown Act mandates that public agencies conduct their business in a way that is open to public scrutiny.

“The people, in delegating authority,” the law’s introduction says, “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 Brown act requires agencies to post meeting agendas at least 72 hours in advance, in a “freely accessible” location, and to describe each item of business – including items discussed in closed sessions – with “enough information to enable members of the general public to determine the general nature of subject matter.” Further, public agencies and boards may not discuss, nor take action on, items that aren’t on the agenda.

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The law allows three exceptions to the agenda requirements: emergencies, a situation requiring immediate action, and items posted on previous agendas. Closed sessions are permitted to discuss personnel matters, pending litigation, real estate negotiation, and labor negotiations. Minutes from closed sessions are exempt from public disclosure rules.

You can read the entire Brown Act at caag.state.ca.us/publications/2003_Main_BrownAct.pdf. Carolyn Schuk can be reached at cschuk@earthlink.net.

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