Please see a similar case in Agua Dulce, an unincorporated town of Los Angeles: http://www.vanguardnews.com/agua/ADTC/2005/050601judgement.htm
The question: Why is Altadena Town Council afraid to amend their bylaws to follow the Brown Act? The Brown Act, originally passed in 1953, “was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials” (From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Act). It was stated by the Chairman and other Councilmembers that the Altadena Town Council does not follow the Brown Act. One member stated that after meeting with an attorney, it was noted that Councilmembers could be held liable for their actions as a result of following the Brown Act. Another Councilmember remarked that we might as well get insurance to protect ourselves against lawsuits if we were to abide by the Brown Act. Most Councilmembers were not even familiar with the Brown Act. Councilmember Ken Roberts asked the question, “Aren’t we following the Brown Act?” The answer is no.
The next question is, what are Councilmembers doing currently or in the past that makes them so afraid of potential lawsuits as a result of Brown Act violations?
At the beginning of the meeting, I moved to make a motion for the following item to be placed on the agenda: “California Brown Act – Motion and Discussion” under No. 9 – New Business. The intention was to bring the Altadena Town Council, and most importantly, the public, to the realization that several violations of the Brown Act have been committed by the Altadena Town Council. The Brown Act (http://caag.state.ca.us/publications/2003_Main_BrownAct.pdf) clearly states that it governs meetings held by local legislative bodies (P. 1), including advisory committees such as Town Councils (P. 5).
I made a second motion under New Business that was seconded by Councilmember Okorie Ezieme: “I move that the Altadena Town Council conduct its meetings in compliance with the California Brown Act to ensure fair and open meetings that are transparent and which allow the citizens of the Altadena community the ability to observe that actions and deliberations of the Town Council are in the best interests of the community.”
Councilmember Okorie Ezieme and I battled heavily in support of the Brown Act, but both motions failed. What does this really mean? It affects everything. The democratic thread from which our society is stitched is threatened when we only have representation by a few. As stated in a letter from California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, “several minds are better than one, and . . . through debate and discussion, the best ideas will emerge”. This is why the Brown Act was created, but the Altadena Town Council feels that although they follow the majority of the Brown Act, the gray areas not followed can be manipulated without holding themselves liable for their actions. This is very unfair to the community.
We can conclude that the citizens of Altadena will get the best representation when all members are working together on the same page, when secret meetings and secret ballots are not acceptable, when we all know and understand the rules, and when we can all be held accountable for our actions.
It is up to the community to hold its elected officials responsible. Please take a moment to click on the link above to see the Brown Act for yourself.