The Associated Students Legislative Council barred all members of the public yesterday from a portion of their regular Wednesday night meeting.
At 6:15 p.m., Internal Vice President Chris Wendle informed members of the public that they would no longer be permitted in what the council deemed a closed meeting. The public was expelled from the session without being informed of the nature of the discussion. When the meeting was reopened to the public over an hour and a half later, Wendle told the Daily Nexus that they had been discussing matters of pending litigation, but would not elaborate further.
“At this time, I can’t say anything about the closed meeting,” Wendle said. “It’s pending litigation. It was not placed on the original agenda, and I did not give 24-hour notice. I really can’t say anything at this point.”
Under the California Brown Act, the public is guaranteed the right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The act permits a closed meeting only in particular circumstances and demands that all items considered must be described in the meeting’s agenda.
While “pending litigation” can be protected under the Brown Act as an acceptable matter for closed meetings, certain criteria must be followed. The Brown Act requires that any matter of pending litigation be discussed in the presence of the legislative body’s attorney, but A.S. had no attorney present during the proceedings.
“If the attorney is not present (either in person or by teleconference means), the closed session may not be conducted,” an Office of the Attorney General memo states.
The law also requires the closed session’s purpose both be explicitly stated on the agenda 24 hours ahead of time and announced in person to everyone present at the meeting.
“Each closed-session meeting must be preceded by a public agenda and by an oral announcement,” the law states. “When final action is taken in closed session, the legislative body may be required to report on such action.”
And, the act states, if a legislative body fails to meet these stipulations, anything discussed within the closed meeting must be disclosed to the public, except in situations of extreme or mortal emergency.
“Thus if a specific statutory exception authorizing a closed session cannot be found, the matter must be conducted in public regardless of its sensitivity,” the act says.
The Brown Act, passed in 1953, governs open meetings for local legislative bodies. Under the law — pursuant to certain requirements — discussions of personnel, public safety, pending litigation, labor negotiations and real property negotiations can be discussed behind closed doors.
“[The act was passed] to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation by public bodies,” the Brown Act states.
Wendle and A.S. President Charlie Arreola did not return calls for comment following the meeting’s adjournment.
— Matt Matejcek contributed to this article.