On Wednesday, the Associated Students Legislative Council held a closed meeting for part of their regular session, forcing members of the public to leave the meeting room. The council offered no explanation, either verbally or in the written agenda. When questioned, council members declined to comment on the reason for the meeting, saying only that it was related to “pending litigation” that could not be discussed in public.
Open meetings are required of almost every governing body under California law. The Brown Act ensures local governments conduct their business publicly and has included community colleges by an Attorney General opinion in 1992. The Bagley-Keene Act mandates all state agencies — including the UC Regents — to hold open meetings. The Gloria Romero Open Meetings Act applies to the governing councils of all Cal State schools. The only public higher education legislative council unregulated by an open meeting act is that of the UC Associated Students. While existing laws could have been applicable to A.S., a 1983 opinion ruled that bodies with powers delegated by the Regents are exempt from scrutiny. As a result of this decision, the letter of the law permits our student representatives to conduct business as secretly as they like.
While there is no official obligation for transparency, practical disregard for the candidness promised by several council members on the campaign trail is disheartening. Transparency and accountability are prerequisites for any functioning democratic body. Even if the reasons behind this closed session had been legally legitimate, failing to disclose those reasons and inform the public in advance underscores the council’s unabashed lack of respect for the students who elected them. Associated Students oversees the spending of about $9 million of our money annually — don’t we deserve to be treated with honesty instead of condescension?
We are appealing to the legislative council to treat its positions in student government as roles of real responsibility, rather than membership in some private club that makes its own rules and is accountable to no one. All other California student body associations are held to a standard of accountability, and there is no reason why any group should be exempt. The only solution to assure that A.S. is forthright in the future is to amend California’s open meeting law to include the UC legislative council. As long as these proceedings are lawful, there is nothing to lose by conducting them publicly.