Los Angeles County supervisors met privately on Tuesday to discuss requests from The Times to turn over transcripts of two recent meetings following alleged violations of one of California’s open government laws.
The discussion, held as part of Tuesday’s closed-door board meeting, came after a lawyer representing the Times sent supervisors a letter accusing them of twice breaching the Brown Law, which aims to ensure that the public can watch local government meetings.
Under the Brown Act, local agencies are allowed to discuss certain matters behind closed doors. These topics may include litigation, employee performance reviews or union negotiations. Local governments should clarify the topic and post it on an agenda before the meeting.
“What you can’t do is use this as an excuse to talk about policy-driven decisions that the public has a right to participate in,” said attorney Kelly Aviles, who wrote the 21 letter. April on behalf of The Times.
The Times alleged the county violated the Brown Law during closed sessions on March 24 and April 18 – meetings that came at a time of crisis for the county’s probation service. The March 24 meeting came the day after state regulators warned county officials that the state was likely to close the county’s two juvenile halls.
At both meetings, the county put “department head performance reviews” on the agenda for the closed session. The Times alleges in its letter that the council actually used the time for a broader discussion about the probation service.
The letter quotes a statement from board chair Janice Hahn that the March 24 closed session was held to “find a way forward to keep young people safe and supported in our halls and of our staff”.
Aviles argued in his letter that such a conversation would be considered a much broader political issue than Brown’s law allows.
“Furthermore, a preemptive discussion about the state of county juvenile halls or their potential closures goes well beyond the staff exception,” the letter states.
A spokesperson for Hahn declined to comment.
In addition to requesting the transcripts, the letter asks the county to “refrain from similar violations in the future.”