Bill would strengthen public's right to comment before votes

January 16, 2014 - By Katy Grimes

“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” says California Code Section 54950 of The Ralph M. Brown Act, the state's bedrock open-government law.

But that’s not always the way the system works. Whether it's deliberate or not, interested members of the public aren’t always heard prior to a legislative body’s vote on an item.

A bill to remedy this by changing the open meetings act was passed 6-0 by the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday and is headed to the Assembly floor for a vote. The measure would expand the grounds under which a district attorney or any interested party could seek to have a government action declared null and void because of a failure to provide adequate public testimony or other input. It also provides for tougher penalties against public officials who block public participation.

According to Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, Assembly Bill 194 would not remove any of the powers of those overseeing a board meeting. It “would give the people a chance to be heard in a public setting,” Campos said.

Campos said she served on her City Council for 10 years, which “did not always allow individuals the right to be heard.” She said the problem is there isn’t a mechanism for individuals to voice concern on public items they were not heard on.

The Brown Act was passed by the Legislature in 1953 to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. However, while the Brown Act makes allowance for remedies of alleged violations of its provisions, this involves litigation. Oftentimes, the issue has been decided by the time the legal challenge is heard, and the moment to act is gone.

“Too often local agencies have inappropriately curtailed this right and silenced individuals' voices,” Campos said at the hearing. “Part of the reason for these actions is that the penalties or remedies for violating this critical right are insufficient. If an individual files a complaint over being shut out, the local agency can simply promise they won’t do it again. The problem is that the action of the agency had already been taken, usually several months before.”

AB194 is supported by ACLU California, Californians Aware and the Californian Newspaper Publishers Association.

Bureaucrats speak up for status quo

John McKibben with the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials opposes AB194. “The Brown Act provides adequate remedies,” said McKibben, warning that Campos' bill could inject subjectivity into the process and lead to openness laws being gamed. “It’s not always clear when a council limits public comment.”

Representatives from the California Special Districts Association and the city of Sacramento also expressed concerns, including the possibility that AB194 could create ambiguities with any contracts approved by government bodies at meetings being challenged under the bill's provisions.

The official bill analysis points to this concern, saying the bill would allow “any action taken under such circumstances to be voided by a court.”

“I am hoping by the time it gets to the floor, this is addressed,” said Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo. Achadjian, the chair of the Local Government Committee, said he was concerned that if the bill were enacted as now written, an entire meeting's actions could be invalidated with one complaint.

Committee members call for fine-tuning

Members of the committee offered suggestions to improve the bill and praise for Campos' intent.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, said the bill language needs to be clearer to take out the subjectivity.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, warned of a “real-world effect on the court system” if the bill's language wasn’t tightened up.

“There is a void in the existing law,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said. Alejo said some government boards have public comment at the beginning of meetings, meaning testimony comes before board members discuss and deliberate on the issue. “Public comment should be taken up with that item.”

“I agree with what you are trying to do,” Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, told Campos.  She said she served on a City Council where members of the public sometimes didn’t have a chance to speak. But she agreed that the bill should be clarified.

Campos assured committee members she would tighten up the bill’s language to specify only the approved agenda item that members of the public wanted to speak on would be voided, rather than the entire meeting, if a complaint about a failure to provide public input were upheld.

A date for the Assembly to take up the bill has not yet been set.

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Comments(9)
  1. LetitCollapse says:

    Oh come on.

    The people didn’t want TARP by a 90% to 10% margin. The phones were ringing off the hooks in DC. They forced it on us anyway.

    The people didn’t want ObamaCare. 60% to 40% margin. They forced it on us anyway. And look at the huge mess we have on our hands now.

    The people didn’t want the Patriot Act. They forced it on us anyway. Now NSA’s got your phone and computer tapped.

    The people didn’t want NDAA. They forced it on us anyway. Now they can revoke your due process and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    The people don’t want amnesty for illegals. They’re going to force that on us too so that foreigners can legally steal our jobs and suppress our wages while making us pay through the nose for their education and healthcare.

    I’ve spoken at public meetings before. It’s a waste of time. Just like writing and calling my congressmen is a waste of time. Come on. Whoever submits the highest bid gets their vote. Do you think this nation is still run based on ‘consent of the governed’? LOL. Grow up.

    This is all happy talk for appearance sake to make you FEEL that your voice really matters. Rah, rah, rah….your government works for you! lol. Sure it does. And if you like your health care plan and your doctor you can keep them! No matter what! And if you make less than $250,000 a year ObamaCare won’t cost you an extra thin dime! And ObamaCare is not a tax. And you’ll get the same health care plan that your congressman has!!! LOL!

    Who do they think I am??? A five year old???

  2. SeeSaw says:

    You whine like a five-year old.

    • LetitCollapse says:

      And you whine like a Mrs. Kravitch peeking through her living room curtains:

      ‘Look, George. Collaspe is complaining again about the about the government overtaxing us, lying to us, spying on us, confiscating our rights, violating the constitution and contradicting the original intentions of our Founding Fathers. Isn’t he disgusting? How dare he complain. He should be more like me!’

    • The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit says:

      SEESAW– El Colapso has only one song– whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine

  3. LetitCollapse says:

    Do you notice that neither of these folks dispute a single word that I wrote in my original comment? Do you notice that they only attack and only focus on the commenter, with NO counterargument to the comment itself?

    I respect counterarguments. And I respect other opinions. Even if they do not coincide with my own. I have zero respect for those who just sit back and toss out barbs and insults at other posters who take the time to post an opinion on a discussion board. If they can’t offer productive comments they should just stay off the board.

    • eck says:

      That’s why no one pays any attention to these shills. They’re paid to post BS to such websites as this. Ignore them. Do not respond.

  4. Ulysses Uhaul says:

    ickeeee…….get some rest and relaxation this weekend…..you deserve it….really……CWD is a true reality show……fair and balanced…….Saw….Teddy….Ah….such minds!

  5. LetitCollapse says:

    Oh, have you heard the latest?

    A team of arms and security experts met in DC last week to investigate the sarin gas attacks that happened in Syria. Their conclusions completely contradicted what Obama and SOS John Kerry told us – that Assad and the Syrian government were responsible for a sarin gas attack that killed 100’s of innocent citizens. Remember when the media showed us the photos of all those dead bodies.

    The team concluded that due to the location of the Syrian government forces that it would have been impossible for them to launch that rocket capable of carrying sarin gas because they didn’t have a rocket with a range short enough to strike the area impacted. Pieces of the rocket were found and analyzed. The Syrian government didn’t even own that style of rocket or have it listed on their inventory. The UN inspectors who examined their arsenal (as a term of the agreement) found no such rocket in their warehouses. lol.

    So Obama and Kerry were ready for America to enter into another war over more bogus, made-up claptrap. lol. And with Russia involved it could have escalated into a world war.

    So Putin was right again. It’s a very sad day when we have to rely upon Russia versus our POTUS or SOS for the truth. lol.

    I’m sorry but with all the lies we’ve been told in the last 5 years I just assume Obama is lying to us until it’s proven otherwise. How could you blame me? If he lies more than he tells the truth a reasonable man would have to assume he’s lying. Otherwise he wouldn’t be ‘reasonable’. lol.

    Obama is not stabilizing the world. He’s destabilizing it. For God sakes, Al-Qaeda is now taking over Iraq after about 5000 of our young citizens sacrificed their lives over there for ‘freedom’.

    Afghani heroin production and exports have never been more abundant. lol. What happened to the ‘war on drugs’? lol. I thought we were interdicting and eliminating those evil illicit drug suppliers worldwide to save the children??? lol. What went wrong??? LOL!!!

  6. Ulysses Uhaul says:

    Collapso….give it a rest!

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