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Closed Session Meetings ARE Allowed By The Brown Act, And They Are Important For a City To Function

by Chris Bailey

29 July 2021, Camarillo Ventura County California

Closed sessions of a legislative body are exceptions to the Brown Act where agency meetings must be publicly noticed AND open to the public.

Only topics specifically authorized under the Brown Act may be discussed in closed session. Regardless of whether a legislative session is open or closed to the public, they ALL must be publicly noticed to comply with the law. That means your elected officials must tell you what they are doing, even if the actual session they are notifying you about is a Closed Session. The meeting is not secret, just private. The most recent Camarillo City Council closed session, held at 8AM on July 22, 2021 was a textbook example of proper notice and execution of a Closed Session City Council meeting.

The most common closed session topics are Litigation, Labor Negotiations, Personnel Matters, and Real Estate Negotiations. It is readily apparent why these categories are authorized to be Closed Meetings. In many ways, it is common sense. Not every threat of a lawsuit, no matter how great, becomes a lawsuit. Even though labor contract negotiations seem to be leaked whenever one side seeks an advantage, they have a Closed Session “carve out” in the Brown Act to protect the private nature of Labor Negotiations. Personnel Matters are by their nature private, but even in these matters an individual can waive their privacy to force a hearing into a public meeting. Real Estate negotiations are the most restrictive, where only price and terms of payment for real property may be discussed in a Closed Session. 

Less frequent uses of Closed Session meetings are to discuss security issues that affect the workings of a municipality, or to discuss licensing that involve trade secrets. Each closed session type has specific public notification requirements, and the Brown Act has a special table coded just for that purpose to ensure the public is always properly notified which an elected body needs to hold a Closed Session or meeting. That table can be reviewed here

In every single example of a Closed Session there is one clear fact. They are ALL publicly noticed, meaning the public is told the Closed Session will occur, and the public is notified of the specific reason for the Closed Session.

At the end of a closed session or meeting, when there is a result from this activity, the board or council is also obligated under the Brown Act to inform their constituents in as timely a manner as possible in a public notice, and potentially in a public hearing.

Next time: If the city is required to do public business in the public meeting format, why did they form an Ad Hoc Committee, which doesn’t meet in public? The dangerous territory of the Ad Hoc Committee.

Chris Bailey is a reporter-at-large of citizensjournal.us, a business owner, military veteran and long time resident of Camarillo


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