Cities now have the option of becoming a lot more secretive—if they choose.
Last month, the state legislature suspended the Brown Act mandate that local jurisdictions—cities, counties, school districts, water districts and special districts—post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension also allows local jurisdictions to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.
How many California municipalities will choose to abandon the transparency mandates is unknown.
In the Orchard City, officials said nothing will change.
"Campbell Union School District values community participation in educating our children and has no plans to reduce posting of Governing Board agendas and actions taken in closed session," said District Spokeswoman Marla Sanchez.
Moreland School District also said things will continue as they have in the past.
"The Moreland School District will continue to post our Board Meeting agendas 72 hours in advance of regularly scheduled board meetings and 24 hours in advance of special meetings," said District Superintendent Mark Barmore. "We are committed to having our decisions be transparent and look forward to continuing to work integrally with our staff, parents, and community.”
is going the same way the elementary/junior high school districts are heading.
"CUHSD intends to continue its current practice of posting agendas and reporting actions out of closed session," said District Superintendent's Administrative Assistant Gaylene Hinkle.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District said it will continue as it has been.
"As of now, there has been no decision to deviate from present practices," said District spokeswoman Jessica Collins.
The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue next week, but the organization’s Communications Director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo.
“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”
How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.
So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.
No word yet on how Campbell city officials will handle this change in the Brown Act.
During Sunshine Week in March, a celebration of open government, with its thoughts on Sunshine Week and what the city did in order to be transparent.
According to watchdog Californians Aware, local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.
They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986—but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported Friday.
The suspension could last through 2015, so it appears the public will need to demand transparency from its representatives if it wants to stay informed.