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MUM'S NOT THE WORD:
Brown Act Opening up in DM
Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue


The Brown Act is what is called a “sunshine act,” meaning it opens government business to sunshine and the public eye. It is the Brown Act that requires Del Mar City Council meetings to be open to the public, calling for agendas to be posted in advance, and ensuring that citizens have the right to speak and be heard even on “items not on the posted agenda.” To protect against government decision-making by surprise, the Brown Act also prohibits City Council discussion or action on items not on a posted agenda. And, there we encounter a bit of a rub.
If the council cannot discuss or act on an item “not on the agenda,” what can they do when a citizen appears to raise an issue “not on the agenda”? Historically, our Del Mar Council practice has been not to discuss the item at all, to simply say “thank you,” and move to the next item. A standard statement printed on every City Council agenda institutionalized this strict approach:
“State law generally precludes the City Council from discussing or acting upon any topic presented during oral communications that is not described on the posted agenda.”

One of my first actions as a new councilmember was to point out that the Brown Act does not require that we be that strict. The Act will allow: (1) questions from the council to any speakers or staff; (2) council discussion to decide if the item should be placed on a future agenda; (3) reports by councilmembers as to any work they have done on the item; and (4) a brief statement by councilmembers about the topic. No action may be taken other than to put the item on a future agenda, but mum does NOT need to be the word!

The council’s standard agenda statement has now been revised accordingly. So, if you plan to come to council to speak on an item “not on the agenda,” my hope is that, where appropriate and when needed, you will NOW get more than a poker face and “thank you!”

The second item I am recommending to improve how council works under the Brown Act is to create a location on the City website where councilmembers can share information between noticed meetings. These informational postings would be visible to all councilmembers and to the public. This would enable all five councilmembers, and the public, to be better informed, while encouraging information sharing in an open, transparent manner. This proposal is still under review. I hope to be able to advise you of its implementation soon.
Both of these modest changes are, in my view, entirely consistent with the Brown Act. They will promote citizen participation, and keep us all better informed. That’s a good thing that the Brown Act was never intended to impede.
The Brown Act is great law.


 

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