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Governor's budget ax aimed at open government law

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Governor’s budget ax aimed at open government law

  • Gov. Gray Davis’ May budget revision calls for the elimination of a requirement that local governments post meaningful agendas three days before a meeting is held.

May 20, 2003 — One of Gov. Gray Davis’ latest tactics for reducing California’s nearly $35 billion shortfall is to eliminate a mandate in state law that requires local government bodies to publicly post agendas, locations and times of meetings.

Since 1986, the California law regulating open government at the local level, the Ralph M. Brown Act, has required that agendas be posted 72 hours before each public meeting.

Also under the Brown Act, “no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda.”

The agenda requirement was added after Los Angeles City Council members voted themselves a large raise without notifying the public that the issue was up for discussion.

The state reimburses local governments for making the information available. Davis’ proposed cut appears within a budget item that would save the state $32.9 million by reducing reimbursements to local governments. The governor’s revised budget does not specify how much of that money pays for the agenda mandate, but according to the Department of Finance, the state was billed $9.3 million from local agencies to fulfill the mandate.

The governor’s budget calls for suspension of 34 mandates, but proposes elimination of only the agenda mandate.

“This mandate requires local governments to perform activities that any responsible public agency should perform without being mandated to do so, and retaining it would continue the State’s obligation to pay the cost. Mandates such as this result in additional General Fund costs without producing a significant benefit to the state,” the governor’s proposed budget states.

“I agree with [the governor] that posting meaningful and informative agendas far enough in advance to give the public reliable notice and sticking to that agenda, that all of that is what you would expect of government and it’s a shame to have to mandate it,” said Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition. “But with at least a recurrent minority of local agencies, the sad fact is that if they are not mandated to do these things, then they’re going to start playing games.”

According to Francke, elimination of this mandate was proposed in the early 1990s, but was restored before the budget became final.

JL

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