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Poll: How Transparent is Martinez City Hall?

In an effort to save money, the state decided to suspend mandates that require local jurisdictions to keep the public informed by posting meeting agendas. Most public agencies plan to continue complying with the Brown Act.

City councils, school districts and other local jurisdictions now have the option of becoming a lot more secretive — if they choose. What will Martinez choose to do?

Last month, the state Legislature suspended the Brown Act mandate that local jurisdictions post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension, a cost-cutting measure, also allows local jurisdictions to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.

How many California municipalities will choose to abandon the right-to-know mandates is unknown.

The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue this week, but the organization’s Communications Director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo."

“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”

The move is to save money. In California, mandates on local jurisdictions are state-funded. Brown Act mandates have been costing the state at estimated $100 million a year.

According to watchdog Californians Aware, local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.

They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986 — but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported Friday.

For example, in Murrieta, a more than 100,000-population city in southern California's Riverside County, in fiscal year 2010 the city's claim for Brown mandates was $24,418, which was not nearly as high as fiscal year 2006 when it reached $36,425.

Murrieta City Attorney Leslie Devaney said the issue is just now getting the attention of local jurisdictions, and there is still sorting out to do. Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has introduced a Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA 7) that would ask California voters if they want the transparency. The amendment is stalled in committee.

"To anyone who's been watching this issue for a while, the real news is not that the Brown Act can be so dependent on the state budget," said Terry Franke, a California media law expert who is General Counsel, Californians Aware. "The real news is that 17 people in Sacramento are denying the public the chance to say 'Enough'."

A version of this story first appeared on the . 

Thisisnot A. Pipe July 17, 2012 at 01:37 AM
How can you have a Democracy if you do not know what "representatives" are deciding, and how can you also put into the legal "Administrative Record" at the necessary time in case you want to have a lawsuit for actions. For instance, CEQA has a 90 day limit on taking action, but comments MUST be put into the Adminstrative Record prior or duing the public discussion period in order to have a lawsuit. This often requires research prior to the meeting. Even just pure protest or support takes research which takes time. And, it is highly likely that Councils (especially Martinez's) will take incrimental, cumulative actions given this lack of need to publicize their actions, and decisions will be overturned or modified without public knowledge. Or they will publish PART of the agenda, not the whole. I remember during the Downtown Specific Plan formation how Mayor Rob Schroder would say the public comment was closed in one meeting, and the next ask just his friends to come and comment. This is major.
Lawrence Risner July 17, 2012 at 03:42 PM
That's all the people running the towns need - Wow!!! Now we'll see just how honorable to their positions they are!

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