What is the Brown Act (Opening Meetings)?

FAQ 34

What is the Brown Act (Opening Meetings)?

Education Code Section 15280(b) provides, “All citizens’ oversight committee proceedings shall be open to the public and notice to the public shall be provided in the same manner as the proceedings of the governing board of the district.” 

Government Code Section 54954.2 provides that K-12 school districts shall at least 72 hours before a regular meeting post an agenda with a brief general description of the business to be transacted or discussed.

Education Code Section 72121(b) prescribes the exact requirements for community college districts.

While the open meeting requirement does not explicitly reference the Ralph M. Brown (Open Meeting) Act, most school districts and CBOCs have interpreted the requirement to establish that CBOC public meetings should be noticed and held in accordance with Brown Act provisions.  CABOC agrees with this position

CABOC has provided answers to various Brown Act FAQs below because the Brown Act applies to Proposition 39 school CBOC.

34.2 What are the main provisions of the Brown Act?

All CBOC meetings, including standing committees, must be open to the public.

A meeting is any congregation of a quorum of the CBOC members simultaneously and in place, including Zoom or other electronic meetings.

Meetings can also include phone calls and an e-mail thread that consists of a quorum of the CBOC.

A quorum of CBOC members is a majority of the active membership.  For example, if there are nine CBOC seats and all nine are filled, a quorum is five – but if two of the seats are unfilled, a quorum is four.

34.3 What is a Brown Act “serial meeting?”

A serial meeting occurs when two or more individual meetings involving CBOC members on the same topic combine to affect a quorum of CBOC members.

For example, if there is a five-member board with a quorum being three members, Member A can meet privately with Member B and discuss a matter. Still, if Member B then meets with Member C to discuss the same topics, the unallowable serial meeting may be deemed to have occurred.

A serial meeting can also occur if a non-member is a common link if the positions or concerns of CBOC members are relayed to other CBOC members.

34.4 Are meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to or between CBOC members subject to the Brown Act?

A CBOC member can e-mail one or more other members on a topic if the number of CBOC members involved is kept under a quorum.

E-mails that are sent out by staff to inform CBOC members, such as transmitting a meeting agenda package, are not subject to the Brown Act.  However, e-mails should be used with caution because if any of the members “respond to all,” it can become subject to the Brown Act requirements.  Therefore, it may be a good idea to send such e-mails with most addresses as “bcc’s” to avoid the potential problems of members being able to respond to all.  CBOC members should not send out e-mails to what could become a quorum of members discussing such matters.

34.5 What are the Brown Act advance notice requirements for meetings?

A regular meeting must be noticed 72 hours in advance on the CBOC or district website.  If the CBOC does not have a website, the meeting notice must be posted at a stipulated place accessible to public members.  Weekend hours may be counted as part of the 72 hours.  The notice shall include the time and place, alternative access (Zoom, call-in, etc.), and the agenda with the items to consider at the meeting.

All meetings must have an agenda, and the agenda must include a description of each item on the agenda.

Special meetings – generally, a non-regularly scheduled meeting on a single topic require 24 hours’ notice.

34.6 How broad can a Brown Act “meeting” be construed?

A “meeting,” as that term is defined under the Brown Act, can occur whenever a majority of the members are in one location, including electronically and even at a social event where the members did not know that other members would be in attendance.  At such occurrences, members must be careful not to discuss CBOC business.

34.7 Does the Brown Act require that the agenda package be accessible by public members?

Upon written request by the media, or any member of the public, the agenda and all documents shall be sent by the district to the person requesting when the agenda is posted.

Many government boards, including CBOCs, post their entire agenda packages on their websites, in a downloadable format, as part of their meeting notice process.

34.8 Under the Brown Act, what rights does the public have to address the CBOC at meetings?

For regular meetings, the public must be provided an opportunity to address any item on the agenda and any item within the subject matter of the CBOC. 

Generally, on items on the agenda, members of the public are allowed to comment after the presentation of the item is made to the CBOC by staff and before the CBOC members begin their discussion.

Members of the public may comment on any CBOC relevant topic they wish during a general public comment period.  Some CBOCs have their available public comment period near the top of the list of agenda items, others at the end.

For special meetings, the public must be provided an opportunity to address any item on the agenda.

34.9 Does the Brown Act allow items that the CBOC can discuss in closed sessions?

Certain items, such as personnel matters and possible and active legal actions, may be considered in executive sessions where the public is not allowed.

However, such items must be placed on the agenda, the items to be considered in the closed session announced in an open meeting before the commencement of the closed session, and the results of any actions taken in the executive session announced.  The public has the same right to comment on any other items before the commencement of the closed session.

34.10 What Are the Brown Act requirements for meeting minutes?

Minutes of meetings must be kept.

Members of the public are entitled to know how each member of the CBOC voted on action items.

Many CBOCs post their meeting minutes on their website to be available to the public and other perpetually interested parties.

34.11 Are CBOC subcommittees and task force meetings subject to the Brown Act requirements?

Standing subcommittees – those intended to remain in existence without a predetermined end date or achievement of a specific objective – are also subject to the Brown Act rules shown above, even if a quorum is not present.

Task forces established for limited specific purposes and terms are not subject to the Brown Act if a quorum of CBOC members is not in attendance.

34.12 Does the Brown Act require members of the public to identify themselves?

Members of the public cannot be required to give names or sign a register as a condition of attendance or speaking. They may be required to go through security procedures such as metal detectors.

34.13 Does the Brown Act allow CBOC meetings to be recorded?

The CBOC, the press/media, and the public may record and broadcast meetings if they do not interfere with the conduct of the meeting and comply with all applicable regulations, such as not blocking fire escape access isles.

If the CBOC records its meetings, it must make such records available to the public or press/media upon request.  Some CBOCs make such recordings available for download on their website.