- Published on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 01:00
- Written by Town Crier Staff Report
Transparency hawks who watch council meetings online or expect posted agenda notices in advance of public hearings can thank the 1953 Brown Act. The state’s budget shortfall, however, could throw a wrench in the transparency cherished by watchdogs.
The State Legislature last month deferred portions of the act, which mandates transparency and reporting accountability from local legislative bodies and guarantees open meetings.
The Budget Act of 2012 (AB 1464) suspends state reimbursement of expenses incurred by local governments under the Brown Act until 2015, allowing cities to legally bypass mandates such as posting agendas 72 hours in advance of meetings and disclosing closed-session decisions.
City officials in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills said they do not plan to alter their level of transparency, even if it comes at their own expense.
No change in Los Altos
The suspended Brown Act mandates won’t change anything in Los Altos, according to Mayor Val Carpenter.
“I’m confident that the city of Los Altos will continue to comply with all aspects of the Brown Act, including posting meeting agendas and reporting out of closed sessions,” Carpenter said in a statement released to the Town Crier. “The Los Altos City Council and staff are committed to being as transparent as we can be to ensure that our residents and other stakeholders are kept fully informed on issues that matter to them.”
In an email to the Town Crier, City Manager Marcia Somers noted that the July 24 city council meeting agenda includes an item affirming the city’s commitment “to continue following existing Brown Act procedures despite the state suspending reimbursement for a portion of those costs.”
The city currently webcasts live and archives all city council meetings (except closed sessions), special meetings and Planning and Transportation Commission meetings, at a cost of approximately $150,000 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
In addition, the city posts agendas, staff reports and additional documents online and publicizes regular meetings 72 hours in advance.
Somers said the city last submitted a $33,000 invoice for partial reimbursement of Brown Act mandates during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. She conceded that the city hasn’t received a reimbursement check “in the last few years,” noting the state’s budget woes.
Nevertheless, Councilman Ron Packard told the Town Crier the city would continue its Brown Act practices in a business-as-usual manner.
“I think that Los Altos residents expect a level of transparency that only can result from continued full compliance with the Brown Act,” he said.
Los Altos Hills still onboard
Los Altos Hills City Clerk Deborah Padovan said the town won’t change any of its practices and will continue to adhere to the Brown Act mandates.
The town makes meeting agendas and minutes available to residents and broadcasts its council meetings live. According to Padovan, the video feed received 200 views from May 1 through June 29, and the tool is growing in popularity.
Los Altos Hills officials said measures that require transparency are important even without state mandate.
“More people watching at home means more people attending meetings,” Padovan said.
LASD moves forward
Los Altos School District Superintendent Jeff Baier said the district’s legal counsel claimed that the recent updates to the Brown Act don’t affect school districts.
Despite the immunity, the district plans to broadcast its board meetings on KMVT and catalog them on the Internet beginning in the fall, Baier said.