WHAT IS THE BROWN ACT?
The Brown Act sets the rules of public meetings for a wide array of government bodies, including city councils, school boards and the governing bodies of local agencies such as economic development committees or environmental districts. The law does not apply to the courts, nor does it apply to the state legislature or state agencies, where meeting access is dictated by different laws.
According to David Snyder, Executive Director of the First Amendment Coalition: “The Brown Act presumes that all meetings are public and the instances where a legislative body can act or discuss things outside the public view are very few and they are very narrowly defined.”
“It is of crucial importance that legislative bodies adhere to those rules Because otherwise they could be conducting the public business in secret and that’s just anathema to the way a democracy functions and it’s anathema to public scrutiny and accountability.”
According to the investigation carried out by the Sonoma County District Attorney, the Board of Supervisors did not properly notify the public about its reasons for entering a closed-door meeting November 19, where discussion centered on potential legal threats over the county’s redistricting.
The second violation occurred when staff compiled a memo summarizing supervisors’ comments on redistricting and shared it with all five board members outside of a public meeting. The district attorney’s investigation concluded that the sharing of that memo was
“inappropriate” and a type of “serial meeting” that is forbidden by the Brown Act.
A serial meeting is a series of communications between a voting majority of a governing body –which would be at least three supervisors in this case- that should have been held in public.
The memo that summarized supervisors’ comments on the redistricting maps went to all five supervisors meaning it should have been discussed publicly.
Staff should never act as an intermediary between various members of a governing body.