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State suspends Brown Act requirement for posting city agendas

Last month, the California State Legislature suspended a Brown Act mandate requiring local governments to post public meeting agendas 72 hours before a meeting. However, the suspension of the Brown Act requirement will not affect the way Claremont conducts business, according to Mayor Larry Schroeder.

Claremont City Council and Commission agendas will still be available to the public despite a recent standstill within the Brown Act.

“The city council believes in the public’s right to access information regarding city business and participate in the legislative process,” Mr. Schroeder said. “We will continue in this tradition.”

This isn’t the first time the mandate has been suspended. It has happened twice since 1986 with little consequence to local government procedure, according to a recent article published by Californians Aware.

“They knew the public would notice and react heatedly and…the procedural routines have been so woven into how meetings are prepared and documented that bureaucratic inertia guarantees their continuity,” the article states. “Even though the law might not hold public officials accountable for no longer posting agendas or providing adequate descriptions of items on them, angry voters would hold them accountable, and political exposure has always been a far more powerful motivator of Brown Act compliance than legal exposure.”

The mandate suspension stems from an issue of burdensome reimbursement costs to the state for the printing of city agendas. In previous years, local governments have been compensated for agenda printing costs. However, the loose format of reimbursement forms caused issues.

“The total claims have accumulated at the rate of more than $20 million per year, with about $63 million ‘due and payable’ to non-education agencies alone by 2012,” according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, as published by Californians Aware.

Because of the accumulated costs, the state decided to forego any plan to pay this amount, as outlined in recent state budget action. As a result of this decision, “the Brown Act cannot be enforced by court action because the mandate to comply has been switched off by operation of constitutional law.”

A constitutional amendment was introduced by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo)  in January 2011 to make the posting of agendas able to be upheld in court regardless of mandate suspensions. Though the proposal received bipartisan support, the amendment was suspended in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in August because of its impact on the state estimated at $50,000 or more. If not removed from the file soon, the bill will die. To find out more about what can be done, visit www.calaware.wordpress.com.

Despite the outcome, Claremont will continue to make agendas available to the public and post video of its city council meetings on the city’s website.

“Reimbursement costs have never been the impetus for our compliance,” Mr. Schroeder said.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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