Governor Brown yesterday (August 22) signed into law, effective January 1, an amendment to the Ralph M. Brown Act requiring local government bodies, prior to voting in open session to approve new pay or benefit levels for their agency’s executives, to “orally report a summary of (the) recommendation” for the increase.
Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Hills) won approval for her SB 1436, which had no opposition, by votes of 37-0 in the Senate and 77-0 in the Assembly. The bill is the latest in a series of transparency reforms prompted by the pay scandal in the City of Bell. The most recent previous safeguard was to prohibit compensation approvals for “local agency executives” at special meetings, which allow action upon only 24 hours public notice, and confine such action to regular meetings, whose agendas must be posted 72 hours in advance.
The “public agency executive” category is defined to include those who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement and who are either the CEO, deputy CEO or assistant CEO of the agency, or a department head, or who work under an employment contract.
Bates said her bill was needed to combat at least some agencies’ tendencies to duck timely public awareness of executive compensation proposals.
Transparency in local government decisionmaking, particularly when it comes to executive compensation, is a valuable safeguard against improper behavior and helps ensure that taxpayer and ratepayer dollars are effectively spent. Local agency executives, such as agency CEOs and city managers, are offered fringe benefits including health care coverage and pensions in amounts that can have a significant long-term impact on the budget and that deserve particular scrutiny by the public. SB 1436 encourages the active discussion of the compensation of local agency executives in an open session, rather than simply placing an item on a consent calendar where it will receive little attention. SB 1436 is a simple change that furthers the intent of the Brown Act, makes it easier for the public to identify improper levels of compensation, and builds trust in government.
Californians Aware not only supported SB 1436 but persuaded Bates to add the following statement to the bill: “This paragraph shall not affect the public’s right under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1) to inspect or copy records created or received in the process of developing the recommendation.” Accordingly, those interested should be able to see or get copies of written exchanges between the executive and the agency’s bargaining agent showing how the proposed compensation improvement (or initial compensation package) evolved in negotiation.