The Brown Act, California’s open meetings law, imposes a long list of requirements on local government agencies and among these are a duty to send copies of meeting agendas to members of the public who request this service.1 Both I and heroic public education activist Hilda Rodriguez-Guzman have asked this of that local white savior charter conspiracy known as The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”).
And on June 16, 2020 the TAS Board’s Finance Committee held a meeting2 but notified neither Hilda nor me in advance. A couple days later I sent an inquiry via email to Wayne Strumpfer, one of TAS’s many lawyers,3 this one in particular of counsel4 to California charter school law powerhouse Young Minney Corr, basically asking “hey friends, what the freaking heck?!”
And five days later, certainly long enough so that we can discount impulsivity as an explanation, Strumpfer sent me his response. In this remarkably idiotic document Strumpfer argues that while the Brown Act may indeed require agencies to send copies of Board agendas to members of the public it imposes no such requirement with respect to committee meetings. In particular, thus spake Strumpfer: “This code section relates to any meeting of a legislative body — i.e., The Accelerated Schools Board. There is nothing in the code section that mentions committee meetings.”
Which is an interesting statement. Strumpfer is correct in the sense that the word “committee” does not appear in the Brown Act at §54954.1. But he’s about as wrong as can be when he equates “legislative bodies” with “The Accelerated Schools Board.” The term “legislative body” is a term of art in the Brown Act. Whatever it may mean in a naive sense is overridden by the law’s extensive definition, found at §54952(b), which states in part that:
“legislative body” means [among other things]:
A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body. … standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.
In other words, committees are legislative bodies. Therefore the Brown Act requires TAS to send copies of committee agendas to members of the public who so request. Also TAS violated the Brown Act by not sending agendas for the June 16, 2020 meeting of the Finance Committee. And Wayne Strumpfer, despite the big bucks he’s paid, apparently didn’t bother to read the law before advising his clients on a course of action.5
One of the tragic aspects of the Brown Act, though, is that essentially the only way its enforced is via litigation. And while county district attorneys have standing to file such suits, at least here in Los Angeles County they rarely if ever do. But private citizens also have standing to challenge violations. According to §54960.2 such a suit must be preceded by a demand letter giving the local agency a chance to “unconditionally commit” not to violate the law in the specified manner ever again.6
I send these letters out from time to time when an agency violates the law egregiously enough. The last one I sent was in December 2019, also to TAS, which did at that time7 capitulate to my demand and unconditionally agree not to violate the law in the specified manner ever again. But that violation was very different from the current one. These shenanigans with the Finance Committee don’t violate their earlier unconditional commitment.
And thus another demand letter is in order, which is why I sent one this morning via email to Strumpfer and TAS Supreme Commander Dr. Grace Lee Chang.8 A transcription follows and now we wait to see whether they capitulate!
July 3, 2020
Grace Lee Chang
The Accelerated Schools
Via email only per agreement
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to you to demand that The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”) cease and desist from violating the Brown Act as described below and to request that, in order to avoid costly and unnecessary litigation, you respond per the Brown Act at California Government Code §54960.2 with an unconditional commitment to so cease and desist.1
1. Charter schools in California are private entities made subject to the Brown Act by state law and, for those authorised by the Los Angeles Unified School District, by the terms of their charter. See the California Education Code at §47604.1(b)(1).
2 Violation of the Brown Act in relation to the June 16, 2020 TAS Finance Committee meeting
2.1 The facts
2. Pursuant to the Brown Act at §54954.1 both Hilda Guzman and I requested that TAS notify us of 2020 meetings subject to the Brown Act and send copies of agendas and board packets.
3. Neither Hilda Guzman nor I received either notice, agenda, or packet for TAS’s June 16, 2020 meeting of its Finance Committee.
4. In response to my inquiry TAS’s attorney, Wayne Strumpfer, told me that TAS was not required to notify the public of committee meetings nor to provide copies of their agendas to members of the public who requested them.
2.2 The law
5. The Brown Act at §54954.1 states that “[a]ny person may request that a copy of the agenda, or a copy of all the documents constituting the agenda packet, of any meeting of a legislative body be mailed to that person.”
6. The Brown Act at §54952(b) defines the term “legislative body” to include:
A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body … [including] standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction …
7. In addition, see Preven v. City of Los Angeles (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 925, 936 [244 Cal.Rptr.3d 364] on the applicability of the Brown Act to committees.
8. TAS’s Finance Committee, being a “standing committee” with “a continuing subject matter jurisdiction,” is a legislative body within the meaning of the Brown Act.
9. The Finance Committee, being a legislative body, is covered by the Brown Act at §54954.1.
10. TAS violated the Brown Act by failing to mail the agenda to me and to Hilda Guzman.
3 The harm done
11. This violation is not just incidental, technical, nor harmless. Rather, it implicates fundamental constitutional rights that the people of California have reserved to themselves. The Brown Act at §54950 states:
In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
12. By refusing to mail committee agendas to members of the public who request them TAS fundamentally undermines the ability of the people of California to retain control over TAS.
4 Demand for relief
13. The Accelerated School’s failure to comply with the requirements of the Brown Act constitute a grave betrayal of both fundamental and consequential principles of our government. It is therefore in the best interest of all concerned that the school not only
cease and desist from such violations in the future but that they make a public commitment to ceasing and desisting.
14. If The Accelerated Schools responds to this demand within 30 days of today’s date with a letter expressing an unconditional commitment to cease and desist from all future violations of this type in substantially the form given by the Brown Act at §54960.2(c) I will consider this matter at an end. Please send this letter to me by email at ▪▪▪▪▪@▪▪▪▪▪.org and by postal mail at:
▪▪▪▪ W. ▪▪▪ ▪▪
Los Angeles, CA 900▪▪
For the sake of efficiency please either confirm my receipt of this letter or send it in such a way that its arrival is trackable.
15. If The Accelerated Schools refuses to so respond or so responds after 30 days have passed I will instruct my attorneys to proceed to “file an action to determine the applicability of this chapter to [the above-described] past actions” under §54960.2 of the Brown Act. If I prevail in that action the Brown Act at §54960.5 allows for the court to award costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to me.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter,
Please note that all citations to the Brown Act in this document are to the California Government Code.
Image of Dr. Wayne Strumpfer, the finest legal mind of his generation, is ©2020 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and if it’s the last thing you do, don’t click this damn link!
- This is found in the Brown Act at §54954.1, which says in pertinent part: Any person may request that a copy of the agenda, or a copy of all the documents constituting the agenda packet, of any meeting of a legislative body be mailed to that person.. Note that the meaning of the word “mailed” is subject to some interpretation apparently. Some government agencies, certainly to thwart public access, interpret it strictly to mean via U.S. mail only. This controversy inspired Senator Bob Wieckowski’s technical but essential SB 931, under consideration this year by the state legislature.
- You can watch it on video here if you’re so inclined.
- When you’re as deeply criminal a conspiracy as TAS you need lots and lots of lawyers. The converse of this, as my own work demonstrates conclusively, is false.
- Whatever the hell that means, if anything.
- It’s logically possible I guess that Strumpfer did read the relevant section and either didn’t understand it or forgot about it. Despite this blog’s editorial policy of mocking our opponents for every conceivable thing we can discover or invent, it hardly seems plausible that he read it and didn’t understand it. The guy’s no genius, to be sure, and he’s both ideologically and morally compromised in a way that inevitably warps his perceptions and understanding of the world. I have no doubt that the cancer of privatization has eaten away at his brain to a shocking extent and that as a result there are many, many things he’s incapable of understanding. But the consequences to lawyers are so high for this particular kind of error that it seems impossible for him to have made it to this point in his career without being disbarred if he was capable of reading and not understanding a simple code section. Almost surely he either didn’t read it before advising, which is very bad, or he read it and forgot about it and didn’t reread it before advising. Equally bad.
- There are three distinct sections in the Brown Act giving three distinct processes for enforcement litigation, of which §54960.2 is only one. This isn’t the place to discuss the differences but I’m constrained in various ways to use only §54960.2. The others require resources that I don’t have available. Like I said, no space here to discuss, but if you want to read about it, the other two sections are §54960 and §54960.1
- I mean, a few weeks later, after they’d had a Board meeting to discuss it.
- I usually send these not only via email but also via certified mail as well. In recognition of the fact that we’re living in pandemic times and that each physical interpersonal interaction increases the risk of disease and death by a small but nonzero amount, Strumpfer and Chang graciously agreed to accept the letter only by email and to acknowledge receipt. Uncharacteristically humane!