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Santa Cruz Indymedia

LOCAL Commentary :: Resistance & Tactics

Keeping Council in Line with the Brown Act

A few sections of the Open Meetings (Brown Act) and a few examples of how Santa Cruz City Council has violated it.
When City Council Violates The Brown Act...

54953.3. A member of the public shall not be required, as a condition to attendance at a meeting of a legislative body of a local agency, to register his or her name, to provide other information, to complete a questionnaire, or otherwise to fulfill any condition precedent to his or her attendance....

Council violation: Interruptions from the Mayor and City Council members urging people to sign pressure them illegally.

54953. (a) All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

Council violation: By excluding activists who have not disrupted Council meetings but have simply ‚Äúviolated‚Ä? their ‚Äúdecorum‚Ä? rules,
Fitzmaurice and other mayors have repeatedly violated this section of the law. Offending the sensibilities of Council members does not constitute a legitimate disruption.
Mayor Reilly recently claimed that the author's use of the word "fuck" was "disruptive" to her ears. This in a situation where the author was presenting factual information about a ticket police unfairly gave a homeless man for having a First Amendment-protected "Fuck the Pigs" sign in his hat.

54953.5. (a) Any person attending an open and public meeting of a legislative body of a local agency shall have the right to record the proceedings with an audio or video tape recorder or a still or motion picture camera in the absence
of a reasonable finding by the legislative body of the local agency that the recording cannot continue without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that constitutes, or would constitute, a persistent disruption of the proceedings.
(b) ....No legislative body of a local agency shall prohibit or otherwise restrict the broadcast of its open and public meetings
in the absence of a reasonable finding that the broadcast cannot be accomplished without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that would constitute a persistent disruption of the proceedings.

Council Violation: Former Mayor Fitzmaurice’s threats to exclude those trying to tape record from the podium violated this law.
Even barring taping of City Council subcommittee meetings not formally covered by the Brown Act, as Councilman Ed Porter did in November 2002 during a Downtown Issues Joint Subcommittee is a free speech violation. Porter had the author arrested and excluded for not turning off his Free Radio Santa Cruz tape recorder. Porter violated the right to open access to public meetings. You can't stop media from recording a public meeting, even if it isn't strictly a Brown Act meeting requiring formal 72-hour notice and public comment periods. A public meeting is a public meeting.

54954 (c) The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body.

Council Violations: Mayor Reilly‚Äôs use of ‚Äúdecorum‚Ä? rules to interrupt and intimidate critics is a violation. Vice-Mayor Kennedy has
threatened to expell Steve Argue for referring to Councilmember Rotkin as ‚Äúsmug‚Ä? by name.
During the author's description of the homeless man who put a "Fuck the Pigs" sign on his hate after he'd gotten four tickets took the issue to City Council, Mayor Reilly had his microphone turned off and ordered him to leave the podium. When the activist took off his t-shirt exposing a t-shirt underneath that read "Fuck the Police", the Mayor ordered the cameras turned away from him and repeatedly interrupted him.
Falsely claiming that ‚Äúbad language‚Ä? ‚Äúdisrupts‚Ä? the meeting has become Mayor Reilly‚Äôs tool for pre-censoring speakers or, worst of all, getting them to censor themselves.
Former Mayor Krohn's false arrest of the author
for a silent Nazi salute goes before the 9th District Court of Appeals in September.

54954.3. (a) Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration
of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body...

Council Violations: On homeless issues, Commission
appointments, and other issues, Council has repeatedly violated this law. Frequently they do so by interrupting and threatening.
Another tactic used more frequently by Mayor Reilly is to postpone for many hours, a section of the agenda so as to make it very difficult for people to speak on it. Not only do they have to wait hours and hours, but there is no clear time when they should return.

What Can You Do?
If the City Council violates your right to publicly participate at City Council or intimidates you in any way, file a
specific letter with the Mayor within 30 days of the violation (you may have longer in some cases). Demand in the letter that the Council redo the business from which you were excluded and/or interrupted. Keep a stamped dated copy of
your letter. Send a letter to local media describing the situation in less than 200 words.

Then contact HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) to share information with them
and get the word out to state-wide organizations fighting for openness in government.

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