The August 17, 2017, column by Bob Edwards, “Olly olly oxen free”, presents a cynical, and I believe misleading, view of the purpose and enforcement of the California open meeting law, or Brown Act, that requires response. Whatever Mr. Edwards may think about the substance of the issue of the sale of the hospital property, (and I probably agree with him, as I do on most issues), the problem or enemy is not the Brown Act.
The column starts with what he assumes t0 be the fact of a Brown Act violation by the Hospital Board (but note that a version of the word “allegedly” is used three different times in the second sentence alone); and follows with a further unsupported assumption that the D.A. didn’t prosecute anyone for this violation because of a weakness in the Brown Act. The last third of the column is devoted to mocking this assumed weakness by applying it to absurd situations.
What Mr. Edwards cynically calls the Do-Over meeting is in fact an open public meeting at which he and anyone else can speak to the substance of the issue as well as to any concerns that he has with the “questionable/cozy/embarrassing/ confidential/sensitive decision” that he allegedly thinks that the Board allegedly made earlier. And he is factually incorrect in stating that no public official has ever been convicted of violating the Brown Act. He is apparently referring to Section 54959 of the California Government Code, which was added to the Brown Act in 1994 to impose misdemeanor criminal penalties for willful violations in certain circumstances. Although convictions under this law are rare, the fact that there have to date been no appellate court cases challenging these convictions does not mean that they haven’t occurred or that public officials are not deterred from illegal conduct. I would refer Mr. Edwards to an excellent paper on the subject by Michael Colantuono, Esq. prepared for the California State Bar Public Law Section called “Enforcing the Brown Act”.
There are a lot of things wrong with how local government operates, and making sure that the public has sufficient information and opportunity to have a voice in public matters is an ongoing challenge. But to incorrectly and unfairly denigrate one of the legal protections that is working serves no one.
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