By Patricia Rascon, Southwestern Regional Compliance Manager
CIFAC Educates Two Cities on Agenda Posting Requirements
(January 2017) What is transparency? Ballotpedia refers to it as, “Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency. In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable. Governments exist to serve the people. Information on how officials conduct the public business and spend taxpayers’ money must be readily available and easily understood. This transparency allows good and just governance”.
Recently while reviewing City Council agendas for two cities in Kern County, I discovered that they were neglecting to post the agendas on their City Internet websites. Through my research, it appeared that the “sites” were marginally operational with postings of employment openings, calendar of events and public hearings for example, but the agendas were nonexistent.
The Ralph M. Brown Act found in California Government Code §54944.2 (a) (1), focuses on the required agenda postings of at least 72 hours before the regular meeting in a location that is “freely accessible to members of the public”. While the courts have not conclusively defined the term “freely accessible”, the California Attorney General has interpreted the provision to require posting in a location accessible to the public 24 hours a day for a 72-hour period. Additionally, the agenda is to be posted to the City Internet website if they have one.
Are there consequences if the City does not abide by the provision of the code with respects to posting on the Internet site? I was surprised to learn that the answer could potentially be “yes”. The Brown Act cites that there should be “substantial compliance” with all agenda posting requirements which includes posting to the agency website §54960 (d) (1). Technical difficulties in of themselves do not automatically require cancellation of the meeting providing the “agency” is complying with all the other requirements of The Brown Act.
The outcome of my inquiry and subsequent education on The Brown Act requirements resulted in the posting of the current agenda and assurance that they are working to correct the technical issues with their respective sites. All cities have a duty to provide its citizens and the general public with an Internet site that is not only accessible with up-to-date content, but other benefits such as digital amenities to request services, contact staff and make comments, and be a resource in general. Furthermore, and most importantly to have a plan to correct outages and errors quickly.