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It’s called the Brown Act, Parks Commission

It’s called the Brown Act, Parks Commission

Summary of the Ralph M. Brown Act.


POSTED January 16, 2010 12:06 a.m.
Attention all local elected officials and members of public boards: You are responsible for knowing and adhering to the provisions in the Ralph M. Brown Act.
If you are a member of a city council, city commission, public utilities board of directors or county board of supervisors and you have no idea what the Brown Act is, then you need to resign today. Right now.
I am continually amazed at our local government officials’ apparent lack of knowledge or desire to follow open meeting laws that exist in the state of California. The Brown Act governs the conduct of open meetings for local government bodies. It is contained in section 54950 of the Government Code. It was created to prevent “back room” deals and other shady goings on in local government.
On Wednesday night, the Turlock Parks, Recreation and Community Commission trampled over the Brown Act not once, but twice during their regular monthly meeting.
Local governing bodies — including the Parks and Rec. Commission — are required under the Brown Act to post an agenda of items that will be discussed and voted on at least 72 hours prior to meeting. They are prohibited from taking action on or discussing any item not appearing on the posted agenda.
This makes sense. If the public is not aware that a governing body is going to discuss a topic, how can they know when to show up for a meeting to give their opinion or be present during deliberations? I know many old school politicians — and current state elected officials — think the public doesn’t need to know what is going on in the government, but the people of California disagree.
“Public commissions, boards, councils and other legislative bodies of local government agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business.  The people do not yield their sovereignty to the bodies that serve them. The people insist on remaining informed to retain control over the legislative bodies they have created,” reads the Brown Act (54950).
The Parks, Recreation and Community Commission agenda for the Jan. 13 meeting included the following items: Affiliate request by youth football league, update on water feature, update on BMX bike park and discussion on future dog park sites. That’s it; nothing else.
But, during this meeting, Turlock City Council member Mary Jackson got up and spoke about expanding the commission from seven members to 13 members.
Jackson, like any other community member, is allowed to address the commission during the Public Participation portion of the meeting on anything she wants. What is not allowed under the Brown Act is for the commission to then discuss the issue, as it was not an agenda item and therefore the public had no idea that topic would be under discussion. After Councilwoman Jackson gave her speech, the commission should have said, “Thank you for your comments, we will add that topic to next month’s agenda for discussion.”
What happened was an approximate 10-minute discussion on expanding the commission that involved at least three commissioners. In my opinion, that was in violation of the Brown Act.
Jackson also asked Turlock Municipal Services Director Dan Madden to give a report about the subject to the Parks commissioners. At first Madden said he would give a presentation at the next meeting — when the topic would supposedly be on the agenda — but then went on to give a short summary anyway.
While Jackson’s actions do not violate the Brown Act, they do seem contrary to the Turlock City Council’s Code of Conduct with Commissions, which state that, “Any public comments by a councilmember at a commission meeting should be clearly made as individual opinion and not a representation of the feelings of the entire city council.” Jackson did not say she was representing the city council, but by asking for city staff to give a report that she commissioned, it appears as if it was city business.
I also don’t understand why the councilwoman didn’t just ask for the topic to be put on February’s Parks Commission agenda and then waited to give a full presentation then.
What Jackson did or didn’t do does not negate the fact that the Parks Commission was in the wrong by discussing the topic at Wednesday’s meeting.
The commission’s next act of disregard for the spirit of the Brown Act came during discussions on the affiliate request by the two youth football leagues. While this topic was on the agenda and lawful discussions ensued at the appropriate time, it did not end there — as it should have. After discussing the youth football affiliate requests, Parks Commission Chair Brent Bohlender addressed the audience saying that they were now ending discussion of the matter and would not revisit it until their February meeting. Bohlender’s comments, I’m sure, were said as a courtesy to those in attendance who came only to share their opinion and hear deliberations about that one topic. It gave audience members the chance to leave, if they did not wish to hear about the rest of the agenda items. Fine and dandy, if it had stopped there.
But it didn’t.
After discussing the other agenda items, the commission brought back up the football league affiliate requests. Commissioners not only asked questions of city staff about the affiliation process, but new information and possible solutions were also bantered about. Commissioners also voiced opinions about the presentations they heard earlier, in a manner I don’t think they would have used if those people were still present.
Telling audience members you will not discuss something, waiting for them to leave, then discussing it looks to me like manipulation and even deception of the public.
The public has the right to know what their governing bodies are discussing, the right to speak their opinion about it, and the right to hear all deliberations (except in specific circumstances, like human resources issues).
I do not have a personal or professional opinion about the two topics under discussion when the Brown Act violations occurred. The intent of this editorial is not to sway opinion on either expansion of the Parks Commission or youth football league affiliation. I also am not trying to chastise individual Parks Commission members or city staff. I just want those people who were appointed to represent the citizens of Turlock to follow the laws of the state and remember that they “exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business,” not replace the people’s role in our business.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004. To view a summary of the Brown Act released by the California Attorney General’s Office, visit www.turlockjournal.com.


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