Elk Grove will no longer be reimbursed from the state for the costs of preparing and posting meeting agendas, but that doesn't mean the city will stop the practice.
The state budget passed last month suspended the practice of reimbursing cities and other local agencies for the labor required to prepare and post agendas for public and closed meetings, saving the state an estimated $96 million. Those disclosures are mandated by a 1986 change to the Ralph M. Brown Act, which was passed in 1953 and requires government bodies to make their meetings open to the public.
Government transparency is further bolstered by Proposition 59, a 2004 ballot measure that added broad requirements for public disclosure to the state constitution.
Elk Grove city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd said the city has asked the state for reimbursement on those labor costs in the past, but a lack of reimbursement and a removal of that mandate won't make the city reconsider its policy for posting agendas.
"The city will continue its commitment to responsiveness, transparency and keeping the public informed about city business," Brainerd said.
The city's budget manager would be able to provide more details on state reimbursement, but is out of the office until later this week, she said. According to the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, cities can ask for a flat rate of $155 per agenda or can bill the state for their own hourly rate to prepare each item on an agenda.
Officials from the said they were preparing a response to questions from Elk Grove Patch at the time of this posting.
The Legislative Analyst's Office in a 2011 report warned lawmakers that using the state budget to suspend the agenda-posting mandate would be "confusing to the public" and would send the "wrong signals to local government."
That office also said in a 2011 report that in place of the Brown Act mandate, Proposition 59 could be used to require the agenda-posting disclosure if "implementing statutes" were created. That method would be more transparent and permanent than suspending the Brown Act mandate, the Legislative Analyst's Office wrote.
Watchdog Says Reimbursement Was a 'Windfall' for Some Agencies
The League of California Cities is expected to release an official statement on the issue next week, but the organization’s Communications Director Eva Spiegel said for now the suggestion to cities is “stick with the status quo."
“The League has been very involved with the Brown Act,” she said. “We have always encouraged transparency.”
According to watchdog Californians Aware—a group that tries to foster improvement of, compliance with and public understanding and use of, public forum law, which deals with what rights citizens have to know what is going in in government—local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.
They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986—but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported Friday.
"To anyone who's been watching this issue for a while, the real news is not that the Brown Act can be so dependent on the state budget," said Californians Aware General Counsel Terry Francke, a California media law expert.
"The real news is that 17 people in Sacramento are denying the public the chance to say 'Enough.' "
Toni McAllister and Maggie Avants of Patch.com contributed to this report.
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