Governor Jerry Brown Can't Seem to Get the Hang of the 'Brown Act'

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Tue, Apr 24, 2012 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge These things start to fade.
  • These things start to fade.
Without the pressure of another campaign in his future (or at least we hope not), Jerry Brown was looking like a real hero in his first few months as governor. It was the Schwarzenegger cleanse -- economy-class flights on Southwest, sensible cuts to the state S.W.A.G. budget.

But in the year-and-a-half since, the Brown Administration has proven one of the worst for government transparency. On Jerry's watch, state legislators have voted against posting their own spending reports online...

... and lifted conflict-of-interest rules that prevented local politicians from appointing themselves to paid positions on city boards.

Brown's apparent disregard for accountability to California taxpayers is especially ironic, considering he shares the last name of 1950s-era Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown, who proposed the best thing that ever happened to state government: The Brown Act.

Unfortunately, Jerry's familiarity with the Brown Act doesn't go far beyond its name.

In a closed-door meeting with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last September -- the transcripts of which were just released last week, after the District Attorney's Office ruled in January that the governor/supervisors had no right to shut the public out -- Brown seemed vaguely confused as to why the meeting was allowed to be held in secret. Yet at the same time, he thought that was pretty awesome.

From the September 26 transcript, posted Sunday by esteemed L.A. blogger Ron Kaye:

ANDREA ORDIN, County Counsel: I will say something also about the fact that this is a very unusual meeting, and we did make it unusual because of these potential threats to public service.

She's talking about the Brown Act's stipulation that meetings may be closed-door if the topic at hand poses a "Threat To Public Services Or Facilities." (Not that the governor knows it!)

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: Let's get our Brown Act cover story.

Yikes. From there, the Brown Act conversation veers further into the realm of ignorance/idiocy -- much like the actual meat of the meeting, during which a bunch of county officials asked each other basic questions about Brown's frightening plan to move nonviolent prisoners from state prison to county jail.

(So basically, the Supes caused this big controversial closed-door hoopla so they could get a quick debriefing on one of the most important initiatives of their careers without looking like a bunch of stoners who hadn't done their homework.)

MS. ORDIN: And as everyone here is very sophisticated and already knows, this is a closed session so we can't talk in great detail about what went on in the closed session, but we will let people know we were talking about the very thing we said we were which is the interference to public services.

GOVERNOR BROWN: Public services or --

MS. ORDIN: It says public services or facilities is the language in the statute, but obviously the threat of public service --

GOVERNOR BROWN: Is that a -- is that a local statute?

MS. ORDIN: No. State statute. It is the Brown Act. It is the Brown Act that allows us to make this -- to have this meeting.

MALE SPEAKER: You know your grandfather --

Nice try, "male speaker" -- Ralph was not actually Jerry's grandfather. But close enough. And Ralph's gift to California is certainly something the self-fashioned savior of this Schwarzenegger-ravaged state should be aware of, if not familiar with.

However, as is becoming clearer, the laws that keep our government in check aren't exactly at the top of Governor Brown's to-do list. Even after a long-winded stint as California's Attorney General. For shame!

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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