On Manhattan Government
by Mark Burton
The landmark California Brown Act requires city council transparency.
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that…councils and other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly…The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
The Brown Act was the result of public uproar over a 10-part series in 1952 by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Michael Harris, entitled “Your Secret Government.” The series described rampant local government secrecy that existed at the time, the dark ages of local government. The Brown Act was enacted to put the public back in the loop.
The Brown Act requires city councils to agendize all city business to be considered at its meetings and to allow for public comment.
In 2010, Manhattan Beach was sued for paying its city manager $195,000 in severance pay without providing proper notice to the community. The suit alleged the council met in closed session with an agenda simply stating “Anticipated Litigation.”
In 2011, the city settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay a $70,000 fine and to release the details of the city manager’s severance agreement. As part of the settlement, the council admitted it violated the Brown Act. The Council also issued a letter to the community apologizing for leaving its residents in the dark. And the Council fired their city attorney.
As a result of that settlement, the council also adopted a Sunshine Policy in 2015 that provides for greater openness and transparency. The new policy requires all closed session items involving “Anticipated Litigation” to provide information about the facts and circumstances related to the “Anticipated Litigation” item.
by Judy Rae