Attorney recommends governments table non-essential issues as governor tweaks open meetings laws
Special to the Sierra Sun
The Board of Supervisors meetings will be on NCTV Channel 17 in western Nevada County and on Truckee-Tahoe Community TV Channel 18 in the eastern part. People can also watch and comment here.
A new executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weekend further suspended some elements of the Brown Act, which regulates transparency in public meetings.
Earlier this month, the governor authorized governing bodies to hold meetings electronically and waived requirements for a board, clerk or the public to be physically present in order to meet the board’s quorum, as well as six requirements relating to disclosure and access to board members’ teleconference locations.
The latest order allows a quorum of members of a legislative body to meet in order to receive updates from and ask questions to local, state and federal officials relating to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response.
Before Saturday’s order, a majority of members of a legislative body meeting to hear about an item within its subject matter jurisdiction would constitute a meeting and therefore be subject to Brown Act requirements, such as posting a meeting notice in advance and allowing public comment.
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However, with the new rules governments can meet so long as they don’t discuss the information they are hearing among themselves or take any action on it during the meeting.
According to Nevada County Counsel Kit Elliott, the county will not have to alert the public when these meetings occur or report what was discussed, leaving it unclear how this caveat can be enforced.
On Friday, before the governor’s Saturday order, the county held a meeting with its business task force, created in the wake of the COVID-19 response to identify, pursue and promote resources for local businesses. The meeting was held via Zoom remote conferencing and featured three members of the Board of Supervisors listening in.
According to California News Publishers’ Association Staff Attorney Brittney Barsotti, the Friday meeting violated the Brown Act. Barsotti pointed to the failure to give enough notice to the public that the meeting was happening.
“Just hearing information on a subject means it would fall under the scope of the Brown Act,” Barsotti said. “As these orders read in the timeline, it still would have been a meeting.”
Barsotti said her organization recommends governments table any non-essential agenda items during this time when transparency is, as she described, “somewhat murky.”
Elliott declined to give a legal opinion on whether the meeting violated the Brown Act.
“You have to look at the spirit of the law,” Elliott said. “The board did not take any action, they didn’t do anything. They didn’t give any direction, they took no action, they just heard information.”
John Orona is a reporter for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in Grass Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4229.
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