Last week I attended my first meeting of the Studio City BID‘s board of directors, and what a fiasco, friends! Aggressively clueless board member Matthew Dunn walking out because I was filming him and so on. But I put off telling you about the most interesting parts! Which is why I’ve gathered you all here this morning! You see, the BID violated the Brown Act in two very serious ways at the meeting.
First of all, the BID holds its meetings inside CBS Studio Center,1 It not only requires an ID to get in there and the registration of one’s name and an image of one’s driver’s license, but also convincing a hostile security guard who thinks BID meetings aren’t open to the public and some other problems. All together these are, of course, violations of the Brown Act at §54953.3, which states unequivocally that:
A member of the public shall not be required, as a condition to attendance at a meeting of a legislative body of a local agency, to register his or her name, to provide other information, to complete a questionnaire, or otherwise to fulfill any condition precedent to his or her attendance.
We’ve seen exactly this kind of thing with BIDs around the City, who hold their meetings in so-called secure buildings, where IDs are required by the property owners rather than the BID itself. E.g. in October 2014, the very same month I founded this blog, Kerry Morrison and her Central Hollywood Coalition were guilty of this. More recently, in April I reported the South Park BID to the LA County DA for violating this exact provision. The universal excuse seems to be that it’s legal for the property owner to require ID, just not the BID.
Of course, the plain language of the statute shows that that argument is entirely fallacious. The law doesn’t say anything about who’s not allowed to require ID, so therefore no one is allowed to require ID. And because, as you know, I haven’t gotten much if any satisfaction from the LA County DA on Brown Act violations, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and use the provisions in the law which allow private citizens to enforce it.
I kicked off this project last month with a demand to the Byzantine Latino Quarter BID which was entirely successful, at least so far, in that the BID caved entirely and unconditionally agreed never ever ever to violate the law again. And the Studio City ID and name registration requirement is a perfect test case for the enforcement of §54953.3. Thus did I fire off this demand letter to BID secretary Gilbert Stayner yesterday afternoon, making Studio City the honored second participant in my private Brown Act enforcement project. They have thirty days to capitulate, and if they don’t, we’re off to Superior Court!2
And Brown Act violations are like cockroaches in the usual cliched sense, and this case is no exception to that rule. The BID also seriously messed up its closed session, which of course I added to the demand, and there was a little problem in May 2018 involving them deliberating via email, which I also added. The first of these is highly technical and the second is fairly repetitious, so I put all the details after the damn break!
Now, before the meeting even took place, when I received a copy of the agenda, it announced a closed session in the following terms: “Executive Session – closed to public.” Now, one of the essential provisions of the Brown Act is that it requires local agencies3 every item of business they’re going to conduct to be described in sufficient detail on the agenda. See §54954.2(a)(1):
At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session.
This is a really important provision, as it allows members of the public to comment even on closed session items. Without knowing what the BID is going to talk about how is it possible for the public to have any input? Also, after a closed session, the BID is required by the Brown Act at §54957.7(b) to reconvene and explain in open session what happened, if anything. The BID’s agenda showed no intention to reconvene:
After any closed session, the legislative body shall reconvene into open session prior to adjournment and shall make any disclosures required by Section 54957.1 of action taken in the closed session.
So, not wanting to rush into expensive and time-consuming legal processes, I fired off an email to John Walker, the BID’s zeck dreck, pointing out the problem:
I just want to let you know that your executive session item is out of compliance with the Brown Act. The Brown Act at section 54954.2(a)(1) requires the agenda to include brief descriptions of matters to be discussed in closed session. Also section 54957.1(a) requires a closed session to be followed by a reporting of what transpired, so it’s also not in compliance to hold closed sessions after the meeting is adjourned. The meeting must be reconvened in open session after each closed session. I hope you’ll remedy these errors before the 72 hour posting deadline arrives.
Thanks for everything,
Well, he did actually revise the agenda, and you can see the revised version here. Here’s the change he made to the description of the closed session: Executive Session to discuss personnel matters. Closed to public. Note that he didn’t add any provision for reporting out the Board’s actions. And not only that but the description itself is deficient.
Another of the essential provisions of the Brown Act is that it requires at §54953(a) that all meetings of local agencies be held in public except under certain specified conditions. That is, open meetings are the default and for a meeting to be closed it must be closed because there’s a reason for closing it that’s already allowed by the Brown Act:
All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
In the case of John Walker’s “personnel matters” the Brown Act has this to say at §54957(b)(1):
this chapter shall not be construed to prevent the legislative body of a local agency from holding closed sessions during a regular or special meeting to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee by another person or employee unless the employee requests a public session.
So as far as the law is concerned, pure “personnel matters” are not actually sufficient reason for closing a meeting. The personnel matters must consist of one of the types listed in the section. So maybe John Walker’s meeting closure is legit, maybe not, but there’s no way to tell from the description.
However, it turns out that this in itself is a violation of the law. The Brown Act requires adequate descriptions but doesn’t leave the question of adequacy up to chance. The law also contains long lists of acceptable agenda descriptions, one for each allowed reason for closing a meeting. The ones relevant to this case are found in §54954.5(e), and they are:
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT
Title: (Specify description of position to be filled)
Title: (Specify description of position to be filled)
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION
Title: (Specify position title of employee being reviewed)
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE/DISMISSAL/RELEASE
(No additional information is required in connection with a closed session to consider discipline, dismissal, or release of a public employee. Discipline includes potential reduction of compensation.)
So the BID violated the Brown Act either way. If they discussed personnel matters but not the kind of personnel matters that allow a meeting to be closed it’s a violation. If they discussed personnel matters that would allow a meeting to be closed they didn’t give an adequate description. This is also described in the demand letter.
And don’t even get me started about reconvening into open session! The law clearly requires this. John Walker refused to fix it on the agenda. After the actual meeting, as they were kicking everyone out for their closed session I asked him again if they were going to reconvene in open session and he flat out told me that they were not. So that’s in there too, damn them!
And the third matter? Well, listen, just read it in the demand letter if you’re interested. It’s an episode in May where they discussed matters via email instead of in an authorized meeting. This, of course, is forbidden by the Brown Act at §54952.2(b). But we’ve been over this before, and I’m not in the mood this morning to go over it again. Stay tuned to see what happens! Court or capitulation?!
Image of Gil Stayner is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is a modified version of a screenshot from this lil fellow ovah heah!
- From which Studio City evidently gets its name, who knew?
- For the details on how the demand/capitulation process works under the Brown Act, take a look at my post on the BLQ BID, in which I explain all this in great detail.
- This is a technical term whose meaning in the Brown Act is essentially nothing more than government agencies which are subject to the Brown Act. Business improvement districts are local agencies per the Streets and Highways Code at §36612, which states in pertinent part: . . . an owners’ association shall comply with the Ralph M. Brown Act . . . at all times when matters within the subject matter of the district are heard, discussed, or deliberated. An owners’ assocation is the Board of Directors of a BID (this is a slightly wrong statement, but to make it right would require the inclusion of far too much detail. It’s wrong in the right way, not worth worrying about.)