[env-trinity] Redding.com- California sunshine law suspended; local leaders say they will continue to comply

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Jul 14 07:55:06 PDT 2012

California sunshine law suspended; local leaders say they will continue to comply
By Jenny Espino

Friday, July 13, 2012

Do you know what your city council and school board members will be discussing at next week's meeting?

Technically, they no longer have to tell you.

State legislators have relieved governing bodies for public agencies of the obligation to post agendas or disclose actions taken in closed session.

Last month, scraping up any pennies they could find to plug the massive budget gap, the lawmakers suspended parts of the Brown Act.

The suspension saves the state about $100 million in reimbursements for the cost to post proper notification, and could last three years or more.

Local government leaders Friday said they plan to continue to ensure transparency.

"To comply is minimal," Redding Mayor Dick Dickerson said. "This current council would continue to (follow the act). Even if it does cost money, it is part of our responsibility.

"I would not advocate for any changes in the city. I think it's too important."

Anderson and Shasta Lake representatives expressed similar sentiments.

Agendas for Anderson City Council meetings will still be posted 72 hours ahead of meetings and reports from closed session actions will follow a familiar format, City Manager Jeff Kiser said.

John Kenny, attorney for Shasta Lake, Dunsmuir, the Shasta Regional Transportation Authority and numerous other government agencies said he won't advise any of those bodies to change their practices.

"The Brown Act is a minimum anyway," he said. "There's nothing that precludes them from doing more."

Such reassurances didn't quell concerns from a watchdog group that say the Legislature's move strikes at the heart of California's sunshine law and now requires the public to increase its vigilance.

"There are going to be a lot of agencies that are going to be committed to being transparent, and there are going to be those that have budget problems of their own," said Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. "They are not going to want to make decisions in the light."

Shasta County Administrative Officer Larry Lees, who is out of the office through Aug. 17, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to amend the state constitution over the issue.

Gov. Jerry Brown has language in his tax-increase initiative on the November ballot that would write the provisions into the constitution, instead of their being subject to state mandate.

Similarly, state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, wants to make the entire open meetings law a part of the constitution and is working to place a measure on the ballot.

Governing boards for municipal and county governments and school districts prepare and post agendas for public meetings and report decisions from closed sessions.

The state reimburses these agencies for their costs, though it has fallen behind in the past two years.

Dickerson said he was unaware the state covered the costs for tasks he sees as basic and minimal.

"It costs nothing for me to come out of closed session and report any actions taken," he said.

City Manager Kurt Starman, in an email Friday, stressed Redding would continue to adhere to the state law.

"It is essential for the public to receive timely information about local government meetings in order to ensure meaningful public participation and input," he said.

Reporter Sean Longoria contributed to this report.

  © 2012 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
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