Ralph M. Brown Act

The Brown Act or “Open Meeting Law” is officially known as the Ralph M. Brown Act and is found in the California Government Code § 54950 et seq. 1. The Brown Act was enacted in 1953 to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies, and as a response to growing concerns about local government officials’ practice of holding secret meetings that were not in compliance with advance public notice requirements. The Brown Act is pivotal in making public officials accountable for their actions and in allowing the public to participate in the decision making process.

 Who is Governed by the Brown Act?

The Brown Act governs local agencies, legislative bodies of local government agencies created by state or federal law and any standing committee of a covered board or legislative body, and governing bodies of non-profit corporations formed by a public agency. Examples of these would be city council, county board of supervisors, special district, school boards, standing committees, and even some types of Home Owners Associations (if they were created by a public entity and constituted as some sort of public district.)

 What is Considered a “Meeting” Under the Brown Act?

A meeting, as defined by the Brown Act, is “any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body at the same time and place to hear, discuss or deliberate upon any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body” (§ 54952.2 (a)). If a quorum of board members are attending a social gathering (for which no meeting notice was given) and start discussing business under the jurisdiction of their legislative body, that would be considered a meeting by Brown Act regulations.

The key elements of a meeting are quorum and discussion, hearing or deliberation of issues. The meeting does not need to be formally convened in order to be subject to the Act. That means that “informal,” “study,” “discussion,” ”informational,” “fact-finding,” or “pre-council” gatherings of a quorum of the members of a board are considered to be within the scope of the Act as meetings.

Exceptions (Meetings Not Covered by the Brown Act)

Conferences and retreats, other public meetings, meetings of other legislative bodies, social or ceremonial events are exempt from the Brown Act, provided that legislative members follow certain rules such as limiting the discussion to the agenda, and that members do not discuss amongst themselves business of their own legislative body. Regulations for these exceptions to meetings are contained in § 54952.2(c). Also excluded from the application of the Brown Act are individual contacts or conversations between a member of a legislative body and any other person (§ 54952.2(c) (1). Any other person is defined as a non-staff or non-board member.