A lawyer specializing in the California Brown Act open meetings law will hold training sessions for the Academic Senate and shared governance leaders this month in an effort by the administration to clarify which bodies and committees are subject to the law—a topic that has caused confusion, debate and infractions within the administration and shared governance bodies.
Interim superintendent Bob Miller acknowledged that the question of which PCC governing bodies fall under the Brown Act has been a point of contention for many years, but that the training sessions to be held on April 13 by lawyer Todd Goluba will set the groundwork for mutual agreement among shared governance.
“As an institution for the past few years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about the Brown Act and how its implemented in our various committees—and which committees need to be governed by the Brown Act, which do not, “ said Miller. “The topic has often been controversial and has often been divisive.”
The Academic Senate meeting held on Monday, March 23 was the site of a heated disagreement after Lancer Radio director and senate member Sarah Barker was not allowed to defend her decision not air a Lancer Radio program after English professor Pat Rose stated concerns about it during public comment.
The Brown Act allows for a brief response to public comment as long as no action or discussion on an item not listed on the agenda is undertaken.
Barker chairs the newly formed Committee on Committees, formed to help clean up committees. Barker said that many senate committees are in violation of the Brown Act simply because they are not publicly posting their meeting dates, agendas and minutes. Coincidentally, a senate agenda was not provided for public viewing the required 72 hours prior to the Academic Senate meeting last week.
“Basically none of the committees are in compliance with the Brown Act except for the ad hoc committees because they don’t actually need to follow the Brown Act laws,” Barker said.
Ad hoc committees are temporary committees created to accomplish a specific task in a short period of time. However, if these committees are scheduled to meet regularly for a prolonged period of time, they are then subject to the Brown Act.
Student trustee Marshall Lewis said that the violations are most likely stemming from shared governance leaders not fully understanding the scope of the Brown Act. He said the act applies to any body created by board policy and the committees created by those bodies, regardless if they are advisory or result in the formation of policy.
“Where you’ll find the most discrepancy with this are things like College Council where folks have the attitude that ‘this is advisory so it doesn’t count.’ That’s not true,” says Lewis. “While it is advisory, so is almost every group of people that meet besides the Board of Trustees. So it’s poor reasoning.”
A lawsuit filed in September of last year by Californians Aware—an organization that strives “to be a center for information, guidance and initiatives in public forum law”—accused the PCC Board of Trustees of violating the Brown Act by not listing the negotiation of former superintendent Mark Rocha’s severance package in a meeting agenda.
The organization is seeking a ruling that the board violated the Brown Act and to nullify the board’s decision to pay Rocha a $400,000 severance. That would require Rocha to pay the tax-funded retirement package back to the school.
While the administration declined to comment on pending litigation, Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning and Innovation Ryan Cornner said each new board member is briefed on the Brown Act as part of their induction. The board also recently participated in a Brown Act workshop also held by Goluba during their annual retreat on Feb. 21.
“As part of the board self-evaluation they decided to request additional Brown Act training for themselves—focus on some of the issues that we’ve identified—and also Brown Act training for the shared governance leaders on the campus,” said Cornner.
A hearing for the lawsuit against the Pasadena City College Area District by Californians Aware is set for April 29 at L.A. County Superior Court.