OPEN MEETINGS — Decision-making bodies are reportedly ducking their open meeting obligations at two community college campuses: Laney College in Oakland and Pierce College in the Los Angeles area.
Reginald James reports in the Laney Tower, the student newspaper:
No agendas. No minutes. No public notices.
For the past
three years, Laney College's student government has held secret
meetings, in violation of the Ralph Brown Act, the state open meeting
law. The Brown Act guarantees the public's right to attend and
participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
government meetings have not been announced to the student body, nor
are they open for the public to attend. ASLC does not provide agendas or
meeting minutes (record of action).
ASLC's constitution calls
for a minimum of two council meetings per month.
In 2006, then
second-term ASLC President Melvin Haywood instituted bi-weekly
"Discussion Meetings." The meetings were to allow ASLC to discuss issues
that would be voted on at "Regular Meetings." The meetings were posted
in accordance with the Brown Act and the public was allowed to attend
and comment on items.
The 2007-2008 ASLC Council continued the
bi-weekly discussion meetings, with restrictions. Every other week, ASLC
would hold a 30-minute discussion meeting. Although ASLC's agenda
stated that meetings would run from 12-1 p.m., ASLC would lock the door
until 12:30p.m., then let students attend the meetings.
time, ASLC said the Brown Act did not apply because Peralta General
Counsel Thuy Nguyen said she issued a legal opinion that the Brown Act
did not apply to the associated student council and did not have to
comply with the Brown Act, adding that the councils should comply with
their own constitutions. ASLC's constitution states it must comply with
the Brown Act.
ASLC stopped locking the door in April 2008,
after an article in the Laney Tower, called out ASLC for possibly
violating the Brown Act.
This school year, ASLC has continued the
practice with less transparency. In addition to ASLC's public "Regular
Meetings," ASLC holds the bi-weekly "Discussion Meetings" meetings that
are not announced. The meetings do not have minutes or agendas.
In the fall of 2009, ASLC began having weekly "workshops" on Mondays
after the Tower reported that the council was reprimanded for not
knowing its own constitution.
Officially, ASLC maintains that the
workshops do not violate the Brown Act because they are not taking any
action at the meetings. These meetings do not have agendas, minutes nor
are they open to the public.
"As far as I know, it's just a
workshop. We are not violating the Brown Act in terms of doing the
workshops" said outgoing ASLC President Ju Hong. As for the discussion
meetings, "We do put out an agenda. We do publish meeting minutes for
discussion meeting(s)." No agendas or minutes for those meetings have
been emailed to the public, nor are they posted on the corkboard outside
the ASLC council chambers in room 401 in the Student Center.
workshops are a learning experience for ASLC members and do not fall
under the Brown Act, according to Student Activities Adviser Algeria
"The meeting is for ASLC to handle (internal) ASLC
business and not have to air our dirty laundry," Kirven said. "The
workshops are to resolve personal issues and discuss events." He added
that the workshops are an opportunity for ASLC to learn and grow."
Brown Act prevents action or discussion to be taken on items not on a
public agenda, and requires government bodies to announce meetings 72
hours in advance, notify the media, conduct only public votes, and allow
the public to address the agency, according to the First Amendment
Organizations such as Peralta's Board of
Trustees are allowed to have closed session meetings, but must report on
any actions taken. The ASLC does not have pending litigation,
personnel, or property issues to negotiate, which are allowed under
"Closed Session" criteria.
"If there is a quorum, they have to
post an agenda", said Dr. Donald Moore, vice president of student
services. "I will investigate it."
Meanwhile a veteran faculty member at the other campus tells CalAware:
Here at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, no student reporters have been thrown out of any meetings (of the Faculty Senate) so far, but we have various faculty and staff groups saying they do not come under the Brown Act. Most of them are sub-committee members who have been appointed rather than elected.
And the Pierce College Council, the main decision-making body on campus comprised of faculty, staff and students announced in a recent set of its minutes that it does not need to comply with the Brown Act because it is an advisory body.