Wick Communications

The $20 million agenda

In journalism on 1 Sep 2011 at 12:23 pm

Better sit down. I know you will be shocked. The state of California is ridiuclous.

In 1953, a state legislator named Ralph Brown had the foresight to push for a law that guaranteed the public the right to participate in and attend government meetings. The subsequent law, known as the Brown Act, now includes a bunch of small-print requirements, one of which is the stipulation that local governments post meeting agendas and report out when anything happens in closed session.

The state considers such state requirements “state mandated local programs.” As such, the state’s constitution requires the state government to reimburse local agencies for the expense related to posting meetings and reporting on what goes on behind closed doors.

Simple, right? Relatively inexpensive, wouldn’t you expect? How much could it possibly cost to post a single sheet of paper with a meeting agenda somewhere that folks are likely to see it?

Apparently, $20 million. …

The Commission on State Mandates (I am not making this up) has authorized $20 million annually to cover these costs – expenses that a reasonable human being wouldn’t even consider.

As a result, the California Newspaper Publishers Association notes, the last two budgets have suspended the Brown Act’s agenda posting and reporting out requirements. It’s too expensive for local government to tell us what its up to.

The CNPA is working on the problem, proposing changes to the law that would once again require public bodies do the public’s business in public.

To me, it all points to a fact that won’t cost the state a shiny penny. Professional reporters at community papers – at least the good ones – maintain relationships with local officials. Even if these officials aren’t legally required to announce what they are up to, they are likely to tell a reporter they trust. It’s another example of the importance of what we do.

(Oh, that photo at the top. That’s Allen Stanford with the mustache, posing with cricket players and $20 million he brought to England as a prize for a cricket competition in 2008. Stanford is now in prison, awaiting trial on charges that his fortune was built on a Ponzi scheme. Not unlike the state of California.)



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