Only days after Californians Aware filed a court action challenging the lawfulness of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ two nonpublic meetings with Governor Jerry Brown last fall, the Board today directed staff to seek a Brown Act amendment from the Legislature allowing local bodies to hold private meetings with governors—and with U.S. Presidents as well. Ari Bloomekatz reports the lawsuit filing and the lobbying approval in the Los Angeles Times.
The public-interest nonprofit Californians Aware has sued the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, citing more than two occasions in which the officials allegedly violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open-meetings law.
CalAware, according to its website, alleged in a lawsuit last week that the supervisors violated the open-meetings law during a session with Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 26 and during a Sept. 20 closed conference call with the governor, among others.
On Tuesday, the supervisors voted 3-0 to ask the Legislature to amend the law to allow private meetings on certain public safety issues with not only the governor but also the president of the United States.
With news that the supervisors might seek such an exemption last week, CalAware’s Terry Francke said the move “shows how it may be dawning on the board that its private conferences with the governor were indeed legally indefensible.”
Two weeks ago, county lawyers confirmed that the supervisors probably broke the law when meeting with the governor Sept. 26. The officials had met with Brown last fall behind closed doors to discuss a controversial plan to shift responsibility for overseeing nonviolent prisoners and probationers from the state to local authorities.
They say it was permissible, but a Times editorial writer filed a complaint and a few months later Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder issued a letter saying “the closed session was simply not permissible under the law.”
CalAware is asking a judge to condemn the supervisors’ action, order them to comply in the future and release any record of the discussions.
“The district attorney has concluded that since the circumstances prompting these closed sessions are unlikely to recur, a strong warning is sufficient –- as a substitute for litigation -– to discourage further Brown Act violations,” Francke said. “We respectfully disagree.”
CalAware’s lawsuit challenges not only the inclusion of the Governor in the closed sessions, but the lawfulness of closing the sessions at all, using the pretext of a threat to public infrastructure to discuss the financial stresses foreseen from the transfer of state prisoners back to county jails and probation supervision, and what state support could be expected to meet those stresses.