Assembly Buys L.A. Supervisors' Secrecy Pretext

On a bipartisan 51-0 vote the state Assembly on Thursday passed a bill allowing local government bodies under the Brown Act to meet privately with the Governor, reports Judy Lin for the Associated Press. The bill is being carried by Republican Assemblyman Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita as a favor to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.  The supervisor persuaded his colleagues to tell the county’s lobbyists to seek the legislation less than a week after Californians Aware sued the county for violation of the Brown Act on February 3. Smyth introduced an empty spot bill vehicle on the Brown Act on February 16, then amended in the current content on March 29. The county’s violations, which it recently disowned and pledged not to repeat in a settlement with CalAware, consisted of three unlawfully closed sessions last September, supposedly to address the security of public buildings and infrastructure from terrorists and other threats of disruption.  Two of the sessions involved Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and the topic was not security but the county’s need for state help in affording the impacts of Brown’s “Realignment” of state prisoners to county jails.  A recently released tape recording of the in-person meeting shows the Governor poking fun at what he called the “Brown Act cover story” prepared by county counsel.  The bill is actually a pared-down version of Antonovich’s original idea, which included closed sessions to allow local councils and boards to huddle secretly with the President as well.  Smyth’s AB 1736 incorporates the fraudulent pretext  for secrecy fronting last September’s meetings by declaring that despite the state constitution’s presumption that government meetings are public,

Without some freedom to protect sensitive information, security is compromised. Therefore, the health and safety of the people of California is enhanced by giving governing bodies the authority to meet with the Governor in closed meetings to discuss security matters that may include sensitive information.

Here are transcripts of the three illegally secret discussions, released on CalAware’s demand, providing some notion of what kind of “security matters that may include sensitive information” we can expect to see discussed by governors and local officials behind closed doors if this bill passes.

September 20 preliminary closed session about concerns with implementing the Realignment.

September 21 phone conference closed session with Governor Brown.

September 26 closed session face-to-face meeting with Governor Brown.


UC Davis Free Speech Scholars: Blockade Others at Your Peril

Two highly regarded First Amendment scholars at the U.C. Davis Law School have provided some locally (and generally) needed reminders about the difference between blockading others’ passage from place to place and other exercises in civil disobedience, and activity such as picketing which informs without obstructing or interfering with others’ rights.  The new article is summarized by William Creeley, legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, writing in The Moral Liberal. Continue reading

Kids in State's Child Welfare System Die in Shadows

California has lost ground in the ranking of states whose juvenile court and child welfare systems operate in transparency, and the result is a persistence in the deaths of children while wards of the counties, says a newly released study, “State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S.”  The resulting C+ grade—down from an A- in the first such survey and compared with Nevada’s current A+—is documented in the excerpt below, which shows the number of points possible for each item, preceded by the number of points actually achieved.  The full report provides more context. Continue reading

Brown Cracked Wise about Brown Act "Cover Story"

Governor Jerry Brown, meeting with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors behind closed doors last fall in a closed session that the county now admits was illegitimate, jokingly referred to the then county counsel’s rationalization for the secrecy a “cover story,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Continue reading

"Public Forum Law": What does it mean?

Public forum law deals with people’s rights to find out what citizens need to know to be truly self-governing, and to share what they know and believe without fear or loss.

These rights are complementary. Open meetings and public records laws keep information about civic issues freely available. Protections for journalists, activists, whistleblowers and others striving to keep the community armed with the facts and their implications complete the circle of law that it takes to keep Californians aware.

After all, ready access to government meetings and files means little if no one dares report or comment on what they learn. And people willing to take a stand and speak out are easily disabled and discredited if the facts and discussions that advance government and other powerful institutions are sealed away from their discovery.

Why the phrase “public forum?” A public forum is a commons for communication—a space where speech on matters of importance to the community is expected and protected. Many public forums are in the public space literally: streets, parks and plazas where citizens interact, informing and persuading one another. Many others are provided by government: official meetings of local and state bodies where citizens address their elected or appointed public servants, on the record.

Still others are privately owned sectors opened by tradition or law to some civic discourse: newspaper editorial pages, radio talk shows and certain large shopping malls where patrons are encouraged to congregate without having to buy. The most dynamic public forum is the newest — in some spaces private but in many others welcoming news, views and discussion — the Internet.

What trends threaten public forums?
• Excessive official secrecy: A public starved of the facts that are staples of speech.
• Intimidation or retaliation: Too high a price placed on inquiry, reporting or comment.
• Eroding opportunity: Dwindling space or time for expected and protected speech.