Camarillo, CA | I’ll See Your Closed Session, And Raise You an Ad Hoc Committee…

How Advisory Committees can become decision makers, and a Brown Act issue

by Chris Bailey 

 Camarillo Ventura County California

As mentioned in the previous article in this series, Public Access Denied!, closed sessions of public meetings, and closed meetings are valuable tools. Public agencies, municipalities, and public companies need to deal with issues that can not be discussed in public. Once these matters are fully investigated and deliberated by the full board or council, they usually become public record. In some circumstances, involving personnel matters, they are never public unless the personnel involved waives that Right. These proceedings are fully endorsed and protected by California Law in the Brown Act.

There is an exception to subcommittee compliance with the Brown Act: Advisory or Ad Hoc Committees consisting of less than a quorum of members of the legislative body. Governing bodies who use advisory committees fall into “Brown Act issue” territory when they focus on the quorum aspect of an Ad Hoc Committee, and not on the other five criteria, which must be met in order for an Ad Hoc Committee to be exempt from Brown Act public access requirements.  The following rules apply: 

(1) The committee must be purely an advisory committee with no decision making authority. This means the committee is on a fact-finding mission, or a purpose to learn the options a legislative body has, and report back to the legislative body(and the public) for the full body to deliberate options in a public hearing.

(2) The committee must be composed solely of less than a quorum of members of the legislative body (two members if the body is a five member body, three if it is a seven member body, and so on.)

Solely is the operative word. Legally that means only, and it has been interpreted to mean that no other persons can sit on the board of an Ad Hoc Committee other than members assigned to the board by the legislative body. No other person can direct the Ad Hoc Committee to execute their task.  No retired judge, no City Manager, no current Planning Commissioner. Nobody. That doesn’t mean they are sitting in a room pouring over information by themselves, It simply means they are running the committee, and ensuring the committee is performing the duties it was mandated to complete, and nothing else.

(3) The committee must not have continuing subject matter jurisdiction. Simply put, the Ad Hoc Committee must do the advisory/investigative function it was established to do in as expeditious a manner as possible. When Ad Hoc Committees are assigned an overly broad mandate (see Rule 1 above), the full legislative body tends to defer to the knowledge of the committee in place of truly deliberating an issue in the legally required public hearing. When the Ad Hoc Committee reports back to the legislative body with their findings, options or research, the committee is dissolved. “Brown Act issues” arises with an Ad Hoc Committee when: (a) the purpose for their formation becomes moot or is overly broad, (b) the Committee makes decisions regarding their mandate that extend beyond the limited function of an advisory/investigative role, or (c) they continue to exist as a committee after a report has been delivered to the full legislative body. An advisory committee that is NOT dissolved after they have reported back to the full body is by definition involved in continuing subject matter. 

(4) The legislative body cannot control the Ad Hoc Committee meeting schedule. This is rarely violated, as it is the most clear distinction of an Advisory or Ad Hoc Committee. Once an Ad Hoc or Advisory committee is formed, it is rare for the public to know when or how often they meet, unless the members of the committee mention attending a meeting.

Ad Hoc Committees are Advisory Committees and must meet all four of these requirements in addition to the non-quorum status of the committee, or they are required to comply with the Brown Act Public Access requirements. Plainly put, they must meet in public with public notice. The Brown Act Handbook clearly states this under II A. Legislative Bodies on Page 2. This source is available here for your review.

Here is a quote from the Orange County Department of Education, who addressed this topic as well in the document The Brown Act, California’s Open Meeting Law, January 2018.  “In essence, all committees created by formal action of a legislative body, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, are subject to the Brown Act, except for advisory committees composed solely of board members that are less than a quorum. If that advisory committee is composed solely of two board members of a five member board (or three board members of a seven member board) and is not a standing committee (i.e., an ad hoc committee), then the Brown Act would not apply.  If the ad hoc committee includes non-board members, then the committee must comply with the Brown Act. In order to be an ad hoc committee exempt from the Brown Act, in our opinion, the committee would have to be convened for a single task, be given a brief time to complete its task, and dissolve immediately upon completion of the task”, Orange County Department of Education, January 2018

All public entities, be they school districts, city councils or Homeowners Associations comply with the Brown Act to conduct business in California. There isn’t a different statute for public and private agencies. Keep in mind that the Brown Act is a minimum standard for public agencies. As has been learned with recent Bus Fare and Bus Pass increases for public transportation in Camarillo, when a city doesn’t make any effort to reach out beyond the bare minimum standard of compliance, citizens get caught blindsided by crushing economic realities.  

Next time: Specific concerns about the Camarillo Airport Ad Hoc Committee formed on April 28, 2021

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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Mike Smith

Just another example of the Oxnard-ification of Camarillo.

Word to the wise: if you vote Republican and live in L.A. County, or some other big blue enclave, just move to a red state. Whatever relief exists in Camarillo will disappear before long.

Especially if Gavin Newsom stays on as governor.