The College Coordinating Council, a shared governance committee represented by various constituency groups college-wide, approved a motion to exempt themselves from the Brown Act, but open government advocates question the legality of the move as the council is a committee created by a legislative body.
The Board of Trustees created the College Coordinating Council in September 1997.
According to the Brown Act, entities governed by the act include “commissions, committees, boards, or other subsidiary bodies of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by resolution or some other formal action of a legislative body.”
PCC President Rajen Vurdien asked the committee members if they wanted the council to continue following the Brown Act, according to meeting minutes, and reminded the council that it is only an advisory committee that makes recommendations to him.
The stated reason for the decision was that not following the Brown Act would enable the council to be more flexible. It was mentioned that the same would apply to the standing committees and that they would be able to get a lot more done by being able to discuss items that may not be on the agenda.
“[The College Council] is an advisory council to the president. They don’t make decisions,“ Vurdien said. “So it makes it easier. It makes the committee more flexible and more transparent, because we can add items to the agenda. It makes it more nimble and you can add stuff more quickly and you don’t have to wait two weeks for another meeting.”
After a brief discussion, a motion to exempt the council from the Brown Act was approved on Jan. 28 without any opposition.
In a meeting last Thursday, the council further approved the revised policy AP 3005, which states that the council’s meetings will continue to be open to the public, that meetings agendas will be published 48 hours in advance and that minutes will continue to be available for public viewing.
“Nothing is going to change,” Vurdien said. “Agendas will still be published and the public is always welcome to come.“
In April of 2015, the Board of Trustees received training held by lawyer Todd Goluba that was meant to clarify all confusion regarding the Brown Act. In the meeting, Goluba advised the college that the College Council did not have to follow the Brown Act.
Goluba did not respond when asked for comment via phone and email.
“The opinion that we have is that there are three Brown Act groups in the college,” Dr. Robert Miller, the school’s assistant superintendent, said in an interview. “The first is the Board of Trustees, the second is the Academic Senate, and the third is the Associated Students. The College Council is an advisory group to the Superintendent-President. So the council can decide to operate under Brown Act or it can decide not to.”
In a meeting in October 2011 the College Council was advised by Gail Cooper, PCC’s general counsel, that it would not have to follow the Brown Act.
The minutes from the meeting state that “Cooper explained that the College Council is not required to follow the Brown Act for its meetings … unless the College Council was specifically created as a policy of the Board, its meetings are not subject to the Brown Act rules.”
Cooper did not respond to an email requesting a comment on the legality of the College Council not following the Brown Act.
“As of more current opinions the manner in which we are operating seems to be the manner in which the council would like to operate,” Miller said.
The Board of Trustees’ meeting minutes confirm that the board approved a revision of board policy 0300 by which it created the College Coordinating Council at the same time as the Council on Academic and Professional Matters (CAPM) on September 3, 1997.
“It does not necessarily state that either of those are operating committees of the Board of Trustees. It just states that the college will have those entities,” Miller said.
Even if it may not be an operating committee of the Board of Trustees, the College Coordinating Council is a standing committee that holds monthly meetings created by a legislative body.
“The fact that the college board created this body is enough by itself to make it subject to the Brown Act,” said Terry Francke from Californians Aware —an organization that strives “to be a center for information, guidance and initiatives in public forum law”— in an email. Francke added that even if the intent was not to advise the Board directly but only president, the Court of Appeal has held in a comparable case (Frazer v. Dixon Unified School District) that that distinction makes no difference.
“Respectfully, that is his opinion,” Miller said.
Californians Aware successfully sued the Board of Trustees for violating open meeting laws.
Exempted are only temporary advisory committees composed solely of the members of the board that are less than a quorum of the board, according to the Guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act by the League of California Cities.
The decision by the college council not to follow the Brown Act also affects all of its standing committees, meaning important committees such as Planning and Priorities and Budget and Resource Allocation will not have to follow the Brown Act any longer.
In several instances in the past PCC has been in violation of the Brown Act. Last year the Board of Trustees violated the Brown Act “by not discussing and taking action on Rocha’s retirement and severance package in public,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Mark Rocha is the former president of Pasadena City College.
The lawyer for the Board of Trustees had stated that the board did not violate the Brown Act. However, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in April 2015 that the open meeting law was broken and the negotiated severance package was nullified. A new settlement was later reached and Rocha was able to keep the $403,826 from his original severance package.
For years, the CAPM meetings were not open to public. The Academic Senate boycotted the CAPM meetings for months as it was in dispute with Rocha about whether the committee needed to follow the Brown Act.
In March 2015, Mary Thompson, administrative assistant to the board, confirmed that CAPM falls under the Brown Act as it was created by a policy of the Board of Trustees. The same was reiterated in July 2015 in a council meeting where it was decided that “the group must remain Brown Act as it was developed by Board policy,” according to meeting minutes.
CAPM and the College Coordinating Council were both created on the same day in 1997 by the Board of Trustees. The Brown Act states that even if groups formed by a legislative body such as the Board of Trustees only serve an advisory function, they still need to follow the act if they are standing committees.
“The College Council made a determination that they would follow Robert’s Rules of Orders and that they would post all of their agendas and minutes and maintain all of their information on their website, but that they were not a committee subject to the Brown Act,” Miller said.
This story has been updated.