Imperial Valley Coalition for Sustainable Healthcare Facilities

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The Brown Act

The Ralph M Brown Act was front and center recently because of several “secret” meetings organized by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia with the various appointed board members to the new Imperial Valley Healthcare District and some actions already taken by the IVHD Interim Board. Several individuals have, through the media, concerns about these meetings violating the Brown Act.  For those of us who follow elected and appointed boards and commissions, we have some understanding of this law.  For the benefit of the public, my team and I wish to provide a broad overview and intent of the Brown Act.  Here are the facts, you can be the judge if a violation has occurred.

The Brown Act is a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.  Authored by then Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953.  

The Brown Act describes its purpose and intent: “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commission, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberation be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.  The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”  

Written In 1953, I believe that the core principle is that the business of the people should be conducted openly and with an abundance of transparency.

The Brown Act was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local officials.  City Council, county board, and other government bodies which would include elected hospital boards were avoiding public scrutiny by holding secret “workshop” and “study sessions”.  The Brown Act applies to “local agencies,” meaning a county, city, school district, any other type of district, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency.  For example, I sit on the Brawley Planning Commission and am subject to the provision of the Brown Act as are my fellow appointees.  So when we meet the following must occur:

Notice to the public of a regular meeting must be posted 72 hours prior to the meeting.  Special meetings require a 24-hour notice. 

  • The agenda must be published with the notice.  Closed sessions are permitted but the agenda must provide the subject of the closed session items, such as personal matters, property or labor negations and even legal matter such as litigation.
  • Public time must be set aside for public comments.  The entity may limit the time for public comment either by speak, by the total time allotted, or both.  The chairperson may grant additional time.
  • The public has a right to attend meetings without registering or identifying themselves. 
  • Material provided to the majority of the body, unless exempt, must be provided to the members of the public. 
  • Meetings must be held in non-discriminatory facilities and are subject to later Federal American with Disabilities Act, such as a wheelchair ramp or elevator.
  • Closed session action must be reported in open session. 
  • Anytime a minimum of three members gather where business might be discussed, that gathering must be agendized, no matter the locale.

The Brown Act has been interpreted to apply to email communication as well, leading to restrictions on a number of parties that can be copied on electronic messages.  

Regarding our Interim Board for the Imperial Valley Healthcare District and Assemblymember Garcia, have they already run afoul of the Brown Act?  Two local Brown Act experts have differing opinions. One believes that the appointees are subject to the rules of the Brown Act from the time of the appointment.  The other indicates that the appointees are not subject to the Brown Act until they are sworn in. The League of California, Open and Public V, A guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act states that “The Act cover members of virtually every type of local government body, elected or appointed, decision making body, elected, or appointed, decision making or advisory. Some types of private organizations are covered, as are newly elected members of a legislative body, even before they take office.”

So the questions for each of you to consider is, if Assemblymember Garcia’s organized meetings and IVHD Interim Board upheld the intent of the Brown Act.  Was a public notice with an agenda published? Was time for public comments allowed, assuming the public was allowed to participate:  Were the materials provided to the majority of the body made available to the members of the public?  If the answer to any of these three questions is no, I believe each of the three meetings and actions taken by the IVHD Board clearly violated the Brown Act. Whether sworn in or not, the appointees were conducting the people’s business without public knowledge. The majority of them have sat on a board subject to the Brown Act so they should know and understand the intent. 

My team now calls each of you out and especially Assemblymember Garcia and Heffernan’s CEO who has the administrative responsibility here. 

The Brown Act was established for you the people to ensure that Government Officials and appointees are not conducting business in the shadows. It is up to all of us to hold them accountable.

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