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Closed meetings, closed minds

After breaking the law by meeting privately with Gov. Brown, L.A. County supervisors, with help from the Assembly, tried to save face with a disingenuous bill altering the code.

May 01, 2012

Dear Assembly, and dear Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: You've got to be kidding.

First, supervisors, some of you made angry and somewhat panicked statements, clearly intended for public consumption, about prison realignment. You foolishly claimed that the policy to transfer supervision over some felons from the state to the county was going to fill the streets with hardened criminals.

Then, in September, you broke the law by discussing the situation in private. Your conversation happens to have been with the governor. Your words in that discussion were more measured, perhaps because you had locked the public out and weren't looking to score any political points or churn up any outrage among your constituents.

Then the district attorney ruled that your private meetings on matters of obvious public concern had broken the law — the Brown Act, which guarantees Californians the right to participate in government meetings. You were sued, and you settled, and you were compelled to release transcripts, pay legal fees and admit wrongdoing, although you continued to insist that you believed you had "a legitimate, albeit unique, basis for meeting in closed session pursuant to Government Code section 54957(a)."

That statute makes an exception to the open meetings law to confer with certain public safety officials (although not explicitly the governor) to discuss9/11-type threats to the security of public buildings, utilities and services. You explained (and congratulations on this; it's both clever and amusing) that you were worried about being able to provide enough mental health care to inmates who needed it and, therefore, realignment was a threat to public services so, gosh, this must be exactly the kind of thing the exception to the Brown open meetings law was meant to cover.

So now you have asked the Legislature to change the law to make it crystal clear that you can, indeed, meet with the governor in private to discuss threats to public buildings and public services, and then you, Assembly — we didn't forget you — passed the bill last week and sent it to the Senate.

Surely you know — as staff in the office of bill author Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) says the assemblyman knows — that this bill doesn't change anything. If you had the meeting again it would still be illegal, because the problem wasn't that your private session was with the governor, it was that the subject didn't really have anything to do with a threat to a public building and therefore has to be discussed in public, no matter whom you're with. Is this bill just a face-saver to allow the supervisors to pretend they won something? Or are you, and they, so completely clueless about the violation?

Whatever. We were going to say that it's your time and money, but actually it isn't. Still, if passing this bill makes you feel better, all we can say is: Knock yourselves out.

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