OPEN MEETINGS  -- Can a local government body hold unannounced, nonpublic "team-building" luncheon gatherings (before their official meetings) without violating the Brown Act so long as their discussions stick to comparing notes on office procedures, travel plans and other administrative issues and do not get into "policy making
discussions?"  One judge is apparently poised to rule to that effect, reports Valerie Gibbons in the Visalia Times-Delta.

A Tulare County Superior Court judge will likely dismiss an open meetings lawsuit against the Tulare County Board of Supervisors next week.

Late
Friday afternoon Judge Melinda Reed issued a tentative ruling in
advance of a hearing scheduled Monday. In it, she upheld her ruling on
July 1 that there wasn't evidence to proceed with a trial, writing the
lawsuit was based on "speculation and unreasonable inferences."

Reed ruled there was no substantive proof that county business was discussed at the lunches."Thus
petitioner fails to allege facts showing that any type of policy making
discussions affecting the general public or having to do with the
county's governmental interest have taken place," she wrote.

The
two sides have been warring since February over whether Tulare County
supervisors admitted violating state open-meeting laws when they
certified that dozens of lunch meetings held in 2009 represented a
business expense.

Southern California open-meetings watchdog Richard McKee filed a lawsuit in March alleging
that the Board of Supervisors violated state open-meeting laws — known
collectively as the Brown Act — when it met with a voting majority 46
times for meals in 2009.

He filed the suit to end such lunch meetings.  The California Newspaper Publishers Association and the company that owns the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register, Visalia Newspapers Inc., joined the suit in April.

McKee
and the media groups contend the county's characterization of the lunch
meetings as "team building" and "building collegiality" represent an
admission that the county violated the Brown Act.

In the response, County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange argued the lawsuit was filed frivolously."They
have failed to allege any new material facts showing any conduct of the
board that is in violation of the Brown Act," Bales-Lange said.

The board has since suspended the practice of meeting for lunch when a voting majority is present.

The hearing will be held in Tulare County Superior Court Monday at 8:30 a.m.