A city council or other public board or commission exists to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. The law requires that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of the state of California, in delegating authority to their elected officials, do not give these public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
So states the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Good public relations are not achieved by any public body when they deliberate in secret meetings for fear that the press will pick up some comment that might reflect unfavorably on them.
Good public relations are achieved by conducting businesslike meetings, discussing problems openly so that the community at large may benefit and understand what is going on.
For a city to try to develop “good public relations” for its own sake and to resort to illegal secret meetings to do so is fostering the worst possible type of public image.
“Personnel” or “executive sessions” are defined by law as legal only if they are used to and consider the appointment, employment or consider matter affecting the national security, dismissal of an officer or employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against such officer or employee by another person (unless the accused requests a public hearing).
Any secret meeting held for any purpose other then this is illegal and each member of a legislature body attending such meeting where action is taken in violation of the Brown Act is guilty of a misdemeanor.
“Action taken” is defined as a collective decision made by a majority of the members of a legislative body.
Another provision of the Brown Act requires that each local newspaper of general circulation so requesting be notified in writing at least 24 hours before the time of any special meeting that is called.
This provision was violated by the Cotati Council recently when a special meeting was called for June 29 at 8 a.m. No member of any local press was notified. It is not known what was discussed at this secret meeting.
Undoubtedly being a councilman or board member is often a job of doubtful reward. Most elected officials can be commended for having the best interests of their community at heart and trying to do a good job. However, no councilman or other elected official should ever lose sight of the fact that he is an instrument of the people and that the people do not yield their sovereignty of the agencies which serve them.
This is the first step toward good public relations.
Did you know that at one time a newspaper called “The World” which was formerly the Cotatian and Rohnert Park Press was published every Wednesday for Cotati and Rohnert Park, California? David E. Kellems was the business manager, Ann Kellems was the editor and Lloyd Draper was the Mechanical Superintendent and was published by KVAN, a Washington corporation authorized to do business in California.
Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.