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Santee Won’t Join State Move Allowing Less Transparent Government

Aiming to save money, lawmakers halted Brown Act rules on meeting notices, closed-session reports.

Santee's City Manager, Keith Till, said the city won’t change longstanding policies of public transparency in the wake of softened Brown Act rules.

In June, California cities and counties were given the option of becoming more secretive.

The state Legislature suspended Brown Act mandates that local jurisdictions—cities, counties, , and special districts—post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension also allows local boards and councils to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.

The number of California municipalities choosing to abandon the transparency mandates is unknown.

Till said the city plans to continue its practice of and announcing the results of closed sessions.

"The City promotes and public participation as a means of healthy governance– not in reliance of the state’s wisdom in mandating such practices in the past," said Till.

The Santee City Council agenda is regularly posted on the city’s website the Friday prior to a meeting.

According to the City Manager, the city of Santee spends $7,500 annually in preparing and publishing agendas and other meeting notices.

Former San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye recently told the San Diego Reader that efforts to water down the Brown Act would be “bad news for the public.”

“It would be impossible for the public to participate if no agenda was posted,” the Reader quoted Frye as saying. “However, I believe the City of San Diego will still comply with the agenda posting requirements. If not, I am certain that the public and media outrage would be immediate and severe.”

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise he is “significantly concerned” about the suspension.

Citizens have no legal recourse, if some officials “see it in their best interest to cut a corner here or there,” Ewert was quoted as saying last week.

The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue soon, but the group’s communications director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo.”

“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”

How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money.

In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.

So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.

The San Francisco Chronicle summarized the history of the Brown Act:

The Brown Act, named for the Modesto assemblyman who authored it, requires that at least 72 hours before a public meeting, local legislative bodies must post an agenda "containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed ... in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public and on the local agency's Internet Web site." The act also stipulates that all decisions made in closed session must be announced publicly.

Toni McAllister, Maggie Avants and Ken Stone of Patch.com contributed to this report.

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MT July 17, 2012 at 02:28 PM
This is an open door for corrupt government to take over. No posting of agendas, mettings no one is told about, and no accountability for how our tax dollars are spent. The last time I was personally involved with exposing Brown Act violations, a grand jury investigation led to 3 men going to prison. Brown Act is their for reason, to guarantee the public is properly informed of what and when things are going to happen so the public can have a say in what happens.

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