OPEN MEETINGS -- Richard McKee, President Emeritus of Calfornians Aware, today sent trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District a demand that it declare a long-running employee health benefits committee subject to the Brown Act and see to it that the committee opens its meetings to the public accordingly.
McKee's demand letter, sent on his own behalf as well as that of CalAware, was prompted by the Attorney General's recent issuance of an opinion concluding that the district's
Benefits Committee (JLMBC) is not subject to the Brown Act because it was created not by the board directly but pursuant to an obligation undertaken in the district's "master agreement" with its labor unions, approved in 2002.
McKee and CalAware believe that that distinction makes no difference, and that the board's nine-year-old approval of the master agreement was sufficient "formal action" to be deemed a creation of the committee, and thus to trigger application of the Brown Act.
The committee comprises representatives of the district and of its seven employee bargaining units. Its purpose is to maintain the quality and cost-effectiveness of the district's health benefits plan. Its authority, set forth in the master agreement, includes the following:
1. review the District's Health Benefits Program and effect any changes to the program it deems necessary to contain costs while maintaining the quality of the benefits available to employees (this includes, but is not limited to, the authority to substitute other plans for the District's existing health benefits plans);
2. recommend the selection, replacement, and evaluation of benefits consultants;
3. recommend the selection, replacement, and evaluation of benefit plan providers;
4. review and make recommendations regarding communications to faculty and staff regarding the health benefits program and their use of health care services under it;
5. review and make recommendations regarding benefit booklets, descriptive literature, and enrollment forms;
6. study recurring enrollee concerns and complaints and make recommendations for their resolution;
7. participate in an annual review of the District's administration of the Health Benefits Program;
8. review and make recommendations about the Districts health benefits budget; and
9. if health care legislation that necessitates modification of the Districts Health Benefits Program is enacted before the termination of this agreement, assess the effects of such legislation and make recommendations to the District and the Exclusive Representatives about appropriate action to take.
McKee, a chemistry professor at Pasadena Community College, made the same access argument against the same rationale as embodied in the Attorney General's opinion, and did so successfully, in a Brown Act lawsuit he brought against his own employer more than 11 years ago. In a recent message to Jack Scott, Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and the official whose office requested the opinion, McKee recalled that
In his Minute Order, issued 12/17/98, Judge Thomas Stoever concluded: the Board took formal action to approve a collective bargaining agreement; that agreement included the establishment of the Sabbatical Leave Advisory Committee (identifying its membership); therefore the Committee was created by the formal action of the Board to approve the agreement, and the Committee is a Legislative Body under Gov't Code section 54952(b).
That section states that the term "legislative body" as used in the Brown Act to designate the type of government body that it applies to, includes "a commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body . . ." (emphasis added).