Californians Aware today filed a lawsuit seeking a court declaration that the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last August when its members privately and serially signed letters to the Legislature and the Governor opposing a bill intended to strengthen . . . the Brown Act. The petition in Californians Aware v. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also seeks a court order prohibiting the Board from using a series of communications, either directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, and take action on specific legislation, outside of a noticed and public meeting. CalAware went to court, according to General Counsel Terry Francke, only when the Board rejected its demand to publicly renounce the practice of discussing or acting on legislative issues outside of open and public meetings. County Counsel Mark Saladino takes the position that the personal signature gathering, accomplished by walking the staff-drafted letter opposing the bill from one Supervisor’s office to another, was a mere formality. The Board’s opposition, he says, was already approved in two previous ways. First, it acted by its December 2013 adoption of a general policy platform for the 2014 legislative session which authorized staff to oppose any legislation creating an undue burden or cost on county operations, but which mentioned neither the Brown Act nor any legislation concerning it. Second, it acted by receiving with no objection a succession of memos to the Board from the executive and lobbying staff, tracking the progress of AB 194 and indicating an intention to oppose it “unless otherwise directed.” The memos were never discussed at open meetings of the Board, which never saw any mention of AB 194 on their agendas either; instead, the memos were posted […]
Should grand juries handle police shootings? Some California lawmakers may move to take police shooting cases away from the secretive grand jury and into open hearings When torture’s no crime, but exposing it is Critic: CIA’s Bush-era torturers go free, but the CIA officer who exposed their methods has been prosecuted by Obama’s DOJ Accountable government: The devil’s in the emails Expert: Senate’s torture report relied crucially on preserved emails—often the only evidence of what was going on Court: Record’s prior release must be proved Government can’t keep a record from you that’s been shared with someone else in the public—if you can prove it was shared Court: Retaliatory firing’s motive is what counts You can sue your employer for firing you on suspicion of whistleblowing—even if you never actually blew the whistle
The Federal Elections Commission invites you to tell it how to make campaign contribution data more transparent—by January 15. As the Sacramento Bee pointed out in a recent editorial, The six-member Federal Election Commission is asking the public to comment about rules governing whether voters can know which interests are spending how much to win over their votes. The Commission long has been one of the more dysfunctional agencies in Washington. It splits 3-3 on virtually all issues of any significance related to campaign disclosure. But in a moment of clarity in October, the commission agreed to ask the public to weigh in on the most pressing issue before it: campaign finance disclosure. Three of the Commissioners, including Ann Ravel, recent chair of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, are traveling the country to stir up awareness of and interest in this rare opportunity. In a statement released to encourage participation, they said: We think it is essential to hear from anyone who cares about money in politics – especially citizens and campaign volunteers who have an equal stake in making our democracy work. We know there is growing public concern about the deluge of undisclosed spending to sway our votes. We share this concern. …Outside spending by groups that hide their donors increased from just $5 million 2006 to more than $300 million in 2012. Given this dramatic increase, the commission should consider based on public comments and testimony how to strengthen its disclosure rules so that voters know who is behind the messages intended to influence their votes. Two problems for the vast majority of citizens who want to be heard but are newcomers to the process: knowing what suggestions to make, and where […]
PUBLIC INFORMATION Harmful, sometimes fatal hospital errors and infections in California now disclosed by NBC Bay Area investigative report online Real owners of California’s nursing homes and how the big chains perform revealed by Sacramento Bee investigative series online Police policy of allowing access to reports of only the most recent crimes going to Court of Appeal on December 11 Senate Judiciary Committee gives unanimous, bipartisan approval to FOIA Improvement Act; now on to full Senate vote OPEN GOVERNMENT Feinstein drops ag-favoring water allocation bill secretly negotiated with Republicans and criticized by excluded stakeholders
PUBLIC INFORMATION U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee today takes up the Freedom of Information Improvement Act, already passed by the House OPEN MEETINGS Judge rules that Monterey County Supervisors’ frequent closed door evaluations of top management did not violate the Brown Act OPEN GOVERNMENT Comment: After eight months, San Diego’s new mayor slow to live up to his campaign promises to improve the city’s transparency
OPEN MEETINGS UCLA student council will limit access to a meeting dealing with a divestment/boycott resolution against Israel—because it can PUBLIC INFORMATION Cal Poly SLO journalism prof sues his employer for access to records showing the campus’s infectious disease preparedness National media groups supporting a suit challenging serious delays in public access to civil case filings in Ventura Superior Court FREE SPEECH Court: Google has a publisher’s First Amendment right to arrange search results as it pleases, including rankings of competitors
Michael Harris, age 92, died in Chevy Chase, MD on Thursday, but his career was Californian through and through. Equally with Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown and Bud Carpenter of the League of California Cities, he’s to be credited with getting the state legislature to enact the nation’s first omnibus local government open meeting law. He wrote its lead, so to speak, as well—the work of an afternoon, we’re told, with Carpenter sitting across the table, drafting the legal specifics. For Carpenter and the League, the main problem to be solved was not that there was no law requiring open meetings of local government bodies; it was that there were too many, each written to govern specific types of agencies—cities, counties, school and special district boards of various jurisdictions. How could a citizen keep track of all the variously shaded requirements? Harris described that patchwork at the opening of his 10-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Your Secret Government.” But the series also went on to describe how the few generally worded rules that were in place were too routinely evaded by circumlocution or just simply ignored, because there was no uniform remedy and no serious consequence for violation. The series, written when Harris was a young veteran of World War II with only two years on the Chronicle’s reporting staff, still makes fascinating reading, since it shows an era so blithely indifferent to transparency principles that have come to win at least lip service as fundamentals of today’s politics. It also shows what the scene would be like today without the criminal penalty that so many have pooh-poohed as toothless.
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today vetoed a bill that would have ended officials’ power to frustrate citizens’ efforts to address local councils, boards, commissions and advisory bodies. In his veto message, the Governor misstated both the nature of the bill and its impact on meetings under the Brown Act: “This bill adds certain procedures to the Brown Act, which at best will enlongate but in no way enhance the quality of debate at the local level.” But AB 194 by Assembly Member Nora Campos (D-San Jose) added no procedures to the law. Instead, it prohibited certain all-too-frequent practices by local bodies such as: using up the allotted time for disfavored citizen speakers by interrupting and challenging their comments, forcing citizens to voice their comments on agenda items at the beginning of meetings before the body has heard staff’s presentation of those items, forbidding citizens from criticizing the actions of staff officials, or treating speakers with more or less accommodation depending on what they have to say. Likewise, nothing in the bill would have “elongated” the meetings, since it left intact the Brown Act rule that local bodies retain full authority to determine the time limits for individual speakers or for comment on particular topics. That distortion echoes the objection of the principal opponent of the bill, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who wrote a personally signed letter voicing that argument when it looked like the bill might reach the Governor. Interestingly, the Board’s meeting minutes for the last year contain no reference to a discussion of or decision to oppose the bill, suggesting that it was reached outside an open and public meeting. But the Board and the Governor showed a common […]
UPDATE Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo has suspended his office’s investigation into whether the Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act in using some 53 closed sessions last year for the announced purpose of evaluating the performance of the five top county executives, but suspected by some observers as being used to provide operational directions that should have been conveyed in open session. Jeff Mitchell reports for the Salinas Californian.
An appetite for either sausage or the law is said not to recommend watching how it is made, but close attention to what Congress is doing will be the topic of a training session next Tuesday presented by the Sunlight Foundation, which states: Open Congress is a free, open source tool that allows you to explore the workings of Congress from searching for legislation, identifying popular bills, browsing voting records to finding and connecting with your lawmaker. The project, originally launched by the Participatory Politics Foundation, is now a project of Sunlight Foundation. Join us to learn more about how to optimize OpenCongress for your use, from creating issue specific widgets, comparing voting records between two lawmakers (“head to head” function), setting email alerts for federal bills and creating a user account. Register for the 10 a.m. Pacific Time online session here.