Governor kills bill seeking to close loophole in open-meeting law | SierraSun.com

Governor kills bill seeking to close loophole in open-meeting law

Steve Lawrence
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that attempted to prevent city councils and other local government boards from using a series of private meetings or communications to skirt open-meeting requirements.

The Republican governor said the bill by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would have imposed “an impractical standard … (that) could potentially prohibit communication among officials and agency staff outside of a public meeting.”

The bill would have prevented a majority of the members of a local legislative body from using a series of communications, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate or take action on any item required to be considered at a public meeting.

It was a response to a 2006 decision by a state appeals court that said a series of individual meetings or communications involving board or council members would not violate open-meeting requirements unless they resulted in a “collective concurrence.”

The bill’s supporters included the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Broadcasters Association. It was opposed by a long list of cities and groups representing city clerks and school administrators.

Tom Newton, general counsel for the CNPA, said Wednesday the bill was an attempt to prevent a return to the days when the public meeting was “simply the place to rubber-stamp decisions made in smoke-filled rooms.”

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“To the extent you can have a series of meetings behind closed doors with less than a quorum present or via fax or e-mail or a staff intermediary (to reach an agreement) …, then you’re cutting the public out of the deliberative process,” he said.

Newton said the bill would not have prevented staff members from briefing board or council members on a proposal. It also would not have prevented board or council members from sending memos to their colleagues about a proposal, as long as they were not part of a coordinated attempt to develop consensus on a particular issue before the public meeting.

“There’s a fine line between a staff briefing where you are going in there and saying here are the facts ” one on one until you do all five members of a body ” (and) an exchange of information among members that’s used to develop a decision,” Newton said.

Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill Friday. Romero spokesman Russ Lopez said the senator plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

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On the Net:

Read the bill, SB964, at http://www.senate.ca.gov