Our View: Lack of notice might not be illegal, but it’s not right
February 5, 2014
Despite a determination by Grass Valley's city attorney, all indications are that there was a violation of the Brown Act this week when a city oversight board met Monday without providing proper prior notice of the meeting to the public. The Brown Act, passed in 1953, guarantees the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
According to this law, a special meeting of a local agency may be called by delivering written notice to each member of the legislative body, to local media and to the agency's website. "The notice shall be delivered personally or by any other means and shall be received at least 24 hours before the time of the meeting as specified in the notice."
The Union newspaper was not notified of the meeting by Grass Valley officials. In fact, the city's website did not have the agenda for the meeting posted until just after noon Monday, after The Union called city hall earlier that day to inquire whether a meeting would be held. When the agenda for the Oversight Board Grass Valley Successor Agency (Former Redevelopment Agency) was finally posted, it was within a few hours of the actual 4 p.m. start.
"There are two references to a 24-hour period in the statue," City Attorney Michael Colantuono told The Union. "One says that the notice has to be delivered and received by the members of the legislative body and the press, and one says that the agenda shall be posted to a physical billboard, accessible to the public, 24 hours in advance."
Although it remains unclear whether that agenda was posted at city hall, as officials suggest, it is clear that one of the oversight board's members did not receive supporting documents for the item on the agenda. That led to Nevada County Supervisor Terry Lamphier abstaining from a vote on a "revised long range property management plan" for undeveloped parcels that were to be resubmitted to the state's department of finance.
"It was a special meeting, so I believe that's a 24-hour noticing requirement," Lamphier told The Union. "I have not received an email or other communication about this document. And that was what we were supposed to be voting on."
Colantuono allowed that the timing might have been an inconvenience and might make elected or appointed officials "unhappy," but he insisted, "it's not illegal. It happens fairly frequently."
Considering the oversight board meets on an infrequent basis to handle the assets of the former Grass Valley RDA, it is even more important to provide proper notice of a meeting as there is no regularly recurring schedule, such as with a city council or planning commission. Without notice, how would the public know the oversight board plans to meet?
Upon further review, it appears Colantuano is correct in that such a lack of notice does happen. Prior to the agenda posted at the city website Monday, after being contacted by The Union, the most recent agenda posted on an oversight board meeting was on April 27, 2012. We are aware of at least one other meeting — on Nov. 5, 2013, which The Union provided coverage — that is also not posted on the city's website.
"But I admit it's a good practice, and we'll certainly be talking about that here at City Hall," Colantuono said.
We ask: Why are agendas for all agencies not posted to their respective websites, where the public may freely access them?
And we certainly believe that even if such a failure to follow this requirement falls short of an actual violation of the Brown Act, it absolutely falls short of the spirit of the law and the responsibility of guaranteeing the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of our local legislative bodies.
Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.
(Update: This story has been updated to correct a statement that referred to the oversight board as the “former Redevelopment Agency.” The board was created to oversee the assets of that former agency. The Union regrets the error.)