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Corte Madera Pledges Support Of Open Government

Town Council passes a resolution to adhere to the Brown Act and transparency in government.

Corte Madera Pledges Support Of Open Government

The resolution passed through the Corte Madera Town Hall with hardly a whisper, but Mayor Bob Ravasio thinks it will make a loud statement in Corte Madera and the California State Legislature.

The Corte Madera Town Council passed a resolution at its July 21 meeting to adhere to the requirements of the Brown Act, California's open meeting law.

"I think what we did tonight speaks for itself," Ravasio said. "We are in complete support of the Brown Act. We think it's critically important."

In June, the state Legislature gave California cities and counties the option of not posting meeting agendas and other reports to save money. This action suspended a key provision of the Brown Act, which requires California cities, counties, school boards and special districts to conduct their meetings openly.

"We want to be as transparent as possible. We want to be as open to the public as possible. We want to do everything we can to make sure we have as much public involvement as possible," Ravasio said after the meeting. "Why would you not do it? It's good government. It's what we're here for."

The Fairfax City Council on August 1 unanimously adopted a resolution to follow the Brown Act. The Mill Valley, Novato and San Rafael governments have considered similar resolutions or stated they intend to comply with the Brown Act.

BROWN ACT SUSPENSION TO SAVE THE STATE MONEY

How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.

So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.

Hartwell-Herrero said Fairfax hadn’t received any state funds for complying with the Brown Act in more than five years.

According to watchdog  Californians Aware — a group that tries to foster improvement of, compliance with and public understanding and use of, public forum law, which deals with what rights citizens have to know what is going in in government— some local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.

They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by  Brown Act amendments passed in 1986—but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported earlier this summer.

In July, Californians Aware launched a petition drive to amend the California constitution to ensure that municipal meeting agendas continue to be offered to the public.

"Even though the law might not hold public officials accountable for no longer posting agendas or providing adequate descriptions of items on them, angry voters would hold them accountable, and political exposure has always been a far more powerful motivator of Brown Act compliance than legal exposure," stated Californians Aware on its website.

— Patch staff contributed to this report

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