In Part 1 of this primer on the Ralph M. Brown Act (“Brown Act”), the laws requiring meetings of elected or appointed members of a public entity be open to the public were discussed. The legislative intent and state policy that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business was cited.
Part 2 will discuss the notice and agenda requirements of the Brown Act.
With a few exceptions, a legislative body (the elected or appointed members of the public agency who collectively make decisions and enact laws) may not take action or discuss any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of that body at any time other than during a noticed meeting. Further, only matters listed on the posted agenda for that meeting may be discussed or acted upon.
The public agency must post a written notice of the time and place of a regular meeting at least seventy-two hours before the meeting. The agency must send out a written notice of the time and place of a special meeting (a meeting that is not held at the public agency’s regular day and time for its meetings) at least twenty-four hours before the meeting.
In addition, the agency must post an agenda at least seventy-two hours before a regular meeting. The agency must send out an agenda at least twenty-four hours before a special meeting. The agenda must contain a brief description of each item that is to be discussed at the meeting. Agenda descriptions should give enough information to permit a person to make an informed decision about whether to attend or participate in a discussion on an issue.
The legislative body may not add an item to the agenda less than seventy-two hours prior to a regular meeting, except for emergencies and where immediate action is required.
An item may be discussed under the emergency exception when a majority of the members of the legislative body determine a work stoppage, crippling disaster, terrorist act, or other activity has occurred that impairs the public health or safety. The immediate action required exception applies when two-thirds of the members of the legislative body determine the need exists to take action immediately and that need for action came to the attention of the agency after the agenda was posted.
Members of the public may comment on matters that are within the subject matter jurisdiction of the public agency, but are not on the agenda. Public agencies usually hear this type of public comment during the portion of the meeting entitled, “Oral Communications,” on the agenda. During the public agency members’ oral communications, members of the legislative body may also raise and briefly discuss items not on the agenda. This is limited, however, to brief announcements, questions for clarification, or direction to staff to explore a matter and place it on a subsequent agenda.
Hopefully this article will inspire you to become an active voice in the actions of your local government.
Heather K. Whitham