By WILLIAM DOTINGA
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that adds his name to the list of people with whom local governments can talk secretly, under the guise of public security.
Typically, the public enjoys access to its local leaders and their decisionmaking process, except in matters that involve public safety and security.
AB 246 – written by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena – makes it possible for local lawmakers to meet with the governor behind closed doors “to discuss matters posing a threat to public buildings, services, utilities or the public’s right of access to public services or facilities.”
Los Angeles County sponsored the bill after it violated open-government laws in 2011, when its board of supervisors met privately with the governor to discuss the state’s prison realignment plan. The LA County district attorney said at the time that the meeting involved policy matters and should have been open to the public.
The legislation passed with wide bipartisan support Monday, clearing the Assembly 69-5 in April and the state Senate 32-4 earlier this month.
“The governor is an essential public safety official, and local governments should have the flexibility to meet with him or her under the same circumstances that they would meet with the attorney general or chief of police,” Bradford said in a statement.
AB 246 amends the 1953 Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in local lawmaking. At the time of the Brown Act’s passage, the Sacramento Bee said that “a law to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, save under the most exceptional circumstances, should not be necessary. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Instances are many in which officials have contrived, deliberately and shamefully, to operate in a vacuum of secrecy.”
Open-government advocates recognized the need to include the governor in public safety and security decisions, but urged local lawmakers not to interpret the bill as a carte blanche for more closed-door meetings.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo – one of the bill’s few opponents in the Legislature – told the Daily Democrat newspaper that “the governor should have to follow the Brown Act just like anybody else.”
“I think it potentially opens the door to making a deal behind closed doors when the discussion should be in public,” Buchanan added.