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California Attorney General Provides Brown Act Guidance on Tours of Facilities

December 13, 2011

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The California Attorney General's Office issued an opinion concluding that a majority of the city council may not attend a private tour of the facilities of a water district that provides services to the city for the purpose of acquiring information regarding those services without violating the Ralph M. Brown Act. The guidance provided by this Attorney General's opinion applies equally to governing bodies of special districts, such as county water districts, that are subject to the Brown Act. A majority of the governing body of a public agency may attend a tour of facilities if the tour is held as a noticed and public meeting of the public agency, or if the tour is structured in a way to otherwise be exempt from the requirements of the Brown Act.

The question arose when the Metropolitan Water District invited officers and employees of its local agency constituent members on a trip to tour water facilities. The tour was open only to invited guests, and not to the public generally. The purpose of the tour was to provide information about the water service that the Metropolitan Water District provides to its member agencies.

The Attorney General determined that this type of tour was a meeting within the definition of the Brown Act.  The Attorney General specified that the Brown Act applies to informal gatherings of a majority of a legislative body designed for the discussion of public business. The Attorney General went on to state that this tour would include the acquisition of information relevant to the water service Metropolitan Water District provides, or may provide, to the city and the gathering of such information is the public's business within the city's jurisdiction.

While this Attorney General's opinion is based on specific facts, the analysis has broader application, particularly given that the Attorney General stated that the conclusion is the same whether the tour is outside or inside the boundaries of a public agency. For example, this same analysis would apply when a majority of a legislative body attends a tour of a public agency's own facilities, an informational session about a topic of interest that involves or could involve the public agency, and a gathering to discuss legislation that could pertain to the public agency.

California Attorney General Opinions are not binding legal authority. But courts often give Attorney General Opinions great weight, particularly in the areas of government transparency, such as open meetings.

 

References:
California Attorney General Opinion No. 10-702 (August 26, 2011)
Ralph M. Brown Act, California Government Code Sections 54950 et seq.

For more information, please contact:

Patrick Miyaki

415-995-5048 Direct Phone
415-995-3512 Fax

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