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Our right to know

POSTED October 14, 2009 12:17 a.m.
Democracy is a great thing. A government by the people, for the people sure beats a system that caters to a dictator or a royal family. But like many good and wonderful things in this world, democracy must be nurtured, watched over and protected by everyone involved in order to maintain its greatness.
The people of California know that just because we have free elections doesn’t mean that after voting we can sit back and let the politicians do whatever they want. To make sure that our elected officials don’t say one thing on the campaign trail, then do whatever benefits them the most after being elected the California State Legislature put in place two very important acts — the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which governs all state boards and commissions, and the Brown Act, which governs all local legislative bodies.
These two acts make sure that the public knows what our elected bodies are up to. The California Attorney General’s Office best summarizes the spirit of both acts:
“In effect, the Legislature said that when a body sits down to develop its consensus, there needs to be a seat at the table reserved for the public. (§ 11120.) By reserving this place for the public, the Legislature has provided the public with the ability to monitor and participate in the decision-making process. If the body were permitted to meet in secret, the public’s  role in the decision-making process would be negated. Therefore, absent a specific reason to keep the public out of the meeting, the public should be allowed to monitor and participate in the decision-making process. If one accepts the philosophy behind the creation of a multimember body and the reservation of a seat at the table for the public, many of the particular rules that exist in the Bagley-Keene Act become much easier to accept and understand. Simply put, some efficiency is sacrificed for the  benefits of greater public participation in government.”
I believe that two of our local legislative bodies — the 38th Agricultural District (Stanislaus County Fair Board) and the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors — need to reread the acts that pertain to their boards.
These public information acts not only call for meeting times and dates to be posted, but also for the business of the boards to be discussed in public, then voted on in public.
It is against the law to discuss a board matter outside of a meeting, then come into a public meeting and vote on it. You must discuss every agenda item — which is not specifically on the list of approved closed session topics — in public.
When Stanislaus County Fair Board members pass notes moments before a meeting begins it appears as though they are discussing board information in secret. The fair board is a state body, and as a state body, the members must discuss all items put before them in public.
When the TID directors do not discuss the options available to replace Director Phillip Short at their public meeting and instead have an agenda item on making an appointment, it makes me wonder what is going on behind closed doors.
I encourage all local elected officials and members of state and local legislative bodies to take a moment to make sure they are following all public information laws.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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