The Open Government Commission typically doesn’t get called on to meet unless there is a specific complaint that has been filed. The current Open Government Commission (made up of one pick per City Council member) met a lot initially to make all sorts of minor changes to the Sunshine Ordinance that took lots of back and forth discussion from essentially two members.
But here, found on another blog, is the Mayor’s appointed gatekeeper of the Sunshine Ordinance (which is a bulked up Brown Act for all intents and purposes) saying that he feels constrained by the Brown Act not allowing Alameda’s legislative body to talk and come to a decision on issues before they sit on the dais and take a vote.
I have to say, I had to read this multiple times to see if I understood exactly what this Commissioner was saying:
I am the Vice-Chairperson of the City of Alameda Open Government Commission that is charged with monitoring the Brown Act and the City’s Sunshine Ordinance.
The opinion expressed below is my own and not an expression of the Commission.
I have been active in communicating with City Council members for the past year and a half and have felt very constrained in trying to buld a consensus because of the the inability of more than two members to discuss an issue. How the legislature can impose such a draconian limitation on local officials while exempting themslves from the same requirements defies any logical explanation. There should be no restriction on any number of council members meeting informally to discuss any matter or even to propose specific legislation and work out the languqge before it reaches the public meeting stage, so long as the the final vote is taken in public after the required prior notice of presentation and public input.
The current system has Councilmembers acting as islands, rather than intelligent candidly interacting human beings. I fully agree with you that it leads to Council being dependent on staff who have no retriction whatsoever on their discourse with eachother. It also leads to interminably long council meetings where language is developed on the fly in the course of the meeting. The late night meetings are much more damaging to the notion of transparency than unlimited private discourse between council members.
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards, and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
I mean, it doesn’t get any plainer than that right? The actions taken openly and deliberations conducted openly. Unless we’re all invited to coffee with the two Councilmembers and it’s televised and noticed properly and then the discussion with the third Councilmember at the Farmer’s Market is televised and noticed properly then deliberations are not “conducted openly.” Because doing what is described above is explicitly disallowed by the Brown Act and it’s called a serial meeting.
It’s one thing to sit and talk about how Joe Blow is whining about all the leaves the fall on his sidewalk during the fall season and one Councilmember wants to talk about that and then tells a third Council person the same story and how they should do something about it, but the Mayor’s appointee to the OPEN GOVERNMENT COMMISSION believes there:
should be no restriction on any number of council members meeting informally to discuss any matter or even to propose specific legislation and work out the languqge before it reaches the public meeting stage, so long as the the final vote is taken in public after the required prior notice of presentation and public input.
And believes that televised and taped public meetings:
much more damaging to the notion of transparency than unlimited private discourse between council members.
Can someone explain this to me? At the very least the public can review the tape of a late night meeting. The public, however, has zero recourse when City Council members chat among themselves over the phone or over coffee. I think it may be time for the Mayor to select someone who — at the very least — understands the significance and importance of the Sunshine Ordinance and — more broadly — the Brown Act. After all, if there is an allegation of a violation it will come before that body to adjudicate and this Commissioner has made it clear that he holds nothing but disdain for one of the key components of the Brown Act, that is the public right to understand the actions and deliberations that lead up to the policies that are voted on by their elected officials.