Legislative Council meetings are famous for two things: outrageous length and controversy. Concerned individuals come, they yell, they leave, and they are either happy or disappointed with what manner of voting ensues. Whether or not the student population at UCSB cares to take part in the weekly governmental circus show, the fact remains that students are able to participate in the process.
The troubling aspect of student government here at UCSB is that most students are unaware of when and where these meetings are and why they should give a rat’s ass in the first place. Now I could sit here and write a laundry list of things that Legislative Council has debated and passed, but that would truly be a massive waste of your time.
Instead, I’m going to assume that the entire student body is already up in arms about local issues – i.e. parking, allocation of your student fees, or new IVFP policies that violate your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights – and are eager to get down and dirty with administrative officials and A.S. Now what if I told you that attempts could be made to hinder your access to government meetings and to your representatives? You’d be madder than hell, and rightly so. But instead of clocking your newly elected leggies and executive director in the head, simmer down and grab your handy copy of the California Government Codes and look up section 54950-54962 54950. Or get a life and look up The Brown Act on the Internet. This act was passed in order to secure your access to government proceedings. It asserts that “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.”
This is the principle on which the Brown Act is centered – that the people have a right to know what their elected officials are doing. Thus, meetings concerning the people’s business must be held at a reasonable time, place and manner so that the average citizen might be able to attend and participate. This means you should have access to everything Legislative Council does as your representative body.
There has been a minor contention in the administration lately as to whether or not the Brown Act applies to student governments in universities. This point was raised to justify the hasty and questionable voting procedures concerning the A.S. Membership Fee Initiative. Students were left out of the process, as most voting was done via telephone to contact leggies who were out of town for the summer. Under the Brown Act, this would be a major no-no since student funds and business were at hand. However, in an attempt to expedite the process and begin the campaign, these issues were thrown to the wind. Most students weren’t exactly thrilled with the notion and Associated Students might have saved a few thousand dollars if students were allowed to speak up in the first place.
I argue that the Brown Act does apply to student government, just as the Constitution applies to everyone without regard to class, race, gender, etc. Associated Students cannot simply revoke your rights every time they become burdensome. It should not matter that we are in a university system; if we elect representatives to allocate our membership fees, to influence local politics and take care of student affairs, the same standards should apply as they would in federal and state proceedings. The wording of the Brown Act is such that the true heart of democracy, public participation, is protected to the fullest extent possible. However, this notion is rendered meaningless unless the student population is aware of the power it may wield and vigorously advocates for itself. I urge everyone to attend a Legislative Council meeting at least once in their four years at UCSB; if not to raise an important issue, at least for some comic relief. See you Wednesday.
Sarah Hooper is an A.S. off-campus representative.