OPEN MEETINGS -- Two days after refusing to let a majority of a city council meet in closed session with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger because of concerns for violation of the Brown Act, his staff defended his closed-door luncheon meeting to which all legislators were invited as simply a social occasion not governed by the lawmakers' own open meeting mandates.
As reported by Associated Press writers Judy Lin and Juliet Williams in the Los Angeles Times,
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday invited California lawmakers to
lunch after his State of the State address, but his office was refusing
to allow the public to attend.
Legal experts said the meeting
constitutes a violation of state law if a quorum of the 120-member
Legislature is present and business is discussed.
Schwarzenegger invited all members of the Assembly and Senate to the
steak-and-salmon lunch at the private Sutter Club near the state
"We can accomplish great things together over the next
year, and I want to get that important work started off with a bang,"
he said in the invitation sent to lawmakers.
"I plan to lay out
some bold ideas for helping our great state through this troubled time
and building an even brighter future, and I don't doubt that we will
have plenty to talk about."
An Associated Press reporter who
showed up and asked to be admitted was turned away by a California
Highway Patrol detail that guards the governor. The officers said the
affair was private.
The governor's spokesman, Aaron McLear,
said the gathering was a social function and not subject to
California's open meetings laws. He said the Republican governor was
paying for the lunch himself.
"They're not talking business,"
McLear said. "This is not an official meeting or a hearing or anything.
It's a social gathering for the governor to start the year off right
with the Legislature."
The Legislature is subject to a weaker
version of California's open-meeting laws than local or other state
bodies. But it would be hard to argue that the highest legislative body
in the state should not follow the same rules as a city council or a
school board, said Terry Francke, legislative counsel for the nonprofit
First Amendment group Californians Aware.
"I think it's an
insult to the intelligence of the public to ask them to believe that
any presentation by a governor to a Legislature is purely social,"
Francke said. "I'm surprised that they really have the gall to expect
that to be taken seriously."
He said a provision of the state
constitution says that if a house of the Legislature or one of its
committees gathers to discuss legislative business, it is an official
meeting. Meetings also require notice to the public.
took place shortly after the governor addressed lawmakers for his final
State of the State speech. In it, he laid out plans to deal with
California's projected $20 billion budget deficit and said he will push
for long-term reforms on such issues as budgeting, the tax system and
Tom Newton, general counsel and legislative
advocate for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said
California law excludes purely social functions from open meetings
laws, and the lawmakers are probably not going to resolve the entire
budget dispute Wednesday.
Still, he added: "Let's say there
were 41 Assembly members there and they had a substantive discussion
about an issue within their legislative jurisdiction. Then that could
be a meeting which would trigger a violation of the law."
All four legislative leaders the top Democrats and Republicans of the Assembly and Senate attended the lunch.
Before the event, the AP asked Senate President Pro Tem Darrell
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, whether he had concerns about the lunch
violating state law.
"We don't know," he responded. "We're just invitees."