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The Brown Act

California Codes Government Code Section 54950-54963

Open Meeting Laws In California

Throughout California's history, local legislative bodies have played a vital role in bringing participatory democracy to the citizens of the state. Local legislative bodies - such as boards, councils and commissions - are created in recognition of the fact that several minds are better than one, and that through debate and discussion, the best ideas will emerge. The law which guarantees the publics right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies is the Ralph M. Brown Act.

While local legislative bodies generally are required to hold meetings in open forum, the Brown Act recognizes the need, under limited circumstances, for these bodies to meet in private in order to carry out their responsibilities in the best interests of the public. For example, the law contains a personnel exception based on notions of personnel privacy, and a pending litigation exception based upon the precept that government agencies should not be disadvantaged in planning litigation strategy. However, assessing litigation impact is one thing but setting policy that may have legal implications in closed sessions could be crossing the line. In 2010, California Aware put statewide association on notice that they would be aggressively pursuing adherence to the Brown Act in this press release. During 2013 additional refinements to the Brown Act are summarized in this legal update.

In addition, access to public records is covered under the CA Public Records Act. For more background see First Amendment Project - Public Records Act. Knowledge of this Act is important to insure proper access to govermental public records not to mention the occasional audit by the media or a lawsuit. Media access to public schools is also allowed under the law.

Finally, elected officials and designated District employees are required to complete annual conflict of interest for the Fair Practices Political Commission. Failure to do so can lead to legal action.

Journalist Pocket Guide to the Brown Act


Meetings of public bodies must be "open and public," actions may not be secret, and action taken in violation of open meetings laws may be voided. ('' 54953(a), 54953(c), 54960.1(d))

One requirement of the Brown Act indicates the need for adequate disclosure of agenda items. Read the article below or this article and you decide if the Brown Act was violated. The local members of the League of Women Voters monitor meetings and occasionally file complaints. In Vallejo, a school board candidate filed a complaint alleging a Brown Act violation because the district did not provide backup documetation of the agenda items.


  • Local agencies, including counties, cities, school and special districts. (' 54951)
  • "Legislative bodies" of each agency--the agency's governing body plus "covered boards," that is, any board, commission, committee, task force or other advisory body created by the agency, whether permanent or temporary. (' 54952(b))
  • Any standing committee of a covered board, regardless of number of members. (' 54952(b))
  • Governing Bodies of Non-profit corporations formed by a public agency or which includes a member of a covered board and receives public money from that board. (' 54952(c))


  • ad hoc advisory committees consisting of less than a quorum of the covered board ('54952(b))
  • most other non-profit corporations
  • All other government agencies. State governmental agencies are covered by the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. (Govt. Code '' 11120-11132)


A "meeting" is any gathering of a majority of the members of a covered board to hear, discuss, or deliberate on matters within the agency's or board's jurisdiction. (' 54952.2(a))

Read the article below and you decide if the Brown Act was violated. In this case, a grand jury did find problems with meeting prior to a decision to let go of an employee.

San Francisco School Board was sued when it posted notice for a Special Meeting on Wednesday before a Holiday and held the Special Meeting on a Friday.

Note: No vote or action is required for the gathering to be a meeting, nor must the members meet face to face. (' 54952.2)

54952.2. (a) As used in this chapter, "meeting" includes any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body at the same time and place to hear, discuss, or deliberate upon any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body or the local agency to which it pertains.

(b) Except as authorized pursuant to Section 54953, any use of direct communication, personal intermediaries, or technological devices that is employed by a majority of the members of the legislative body to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken on an item by the members of the legislative body is prohibited.

While personnel matters maybe discussed in Closed Session, there are certain actions that must take place in public session, including approval of the superintendent contract. In addition, firing the superintendent requires a public hearing, if requested. The consequences for not conducting a public hearing can be severe. A grey area is the awarding of bonuses and whether or not the vote can be taken in Closed Session and reported out or the vote must take place in public. Apparently, to be safe, this Board decided to recast their in public.

Closed session does not protect a School Board in personnel matters when the party of the Closed Session waives their confidentiality status. The Lucia Mar School Board was the subject of a grand jury investigation after conducting Closed Session meetings about the employment status of two principals. This school district ended up being cited by grand jury for actions taken in Closed Session.

Matters discussed in Closed Session are confidential. Staff needs to train new Board members about the nature of Closed Session or it could lead to embarassing disclosures and censure for the new Board member.

Then there is the strange case where the Board conducted a series of Closed Session meetings that led to accepting the resignation of the Superintendent the buyout of his contract for $410,000. After which a Board member demanded a grand jury investigation to why the majority voted to accept the resignation and still pay the $410,000.

When a board seeks to limit public input, citizens get upset and even sue and then win. The local DA will even issue a letter of reprimand if they feel the Board attempted to quiet public input. For this school board, their pattern of ignoring the Brown Act, led to civil action and additional Brown Act challenges and eventual recall.

Sometimes, Board member attempt to allege Brown Act violations to shift emphasis away from their own curious behavior. When a Board member calls for termination of an employee in public, the Board attempts to censure that Board member. Then that Board member sues citing protected speech, which leads to another lawsuit, where the Brown Act is gutted. Then Board attempts to limit this Board member ability to have items placed on the agenda.

School attorneys say that the law allows for closed meetings when criteria for evaluation are discussed. However, it does not the agendaizing of items not related to the superintendent evaluation for closed session meetings.


SUSD discussions about candidates may violate law

By Yasmin Assemi, Stockton Record, February 10, 2005

Stockton Unified school board members met in parking lots, talked over the phone and consulted each other outside public meetings before appointing a new school board member Tuesday night.

Those actions likely violated the Brown Act, the state's good-government open-meeting law, according to a media attorney for The Record.

On Tuesday night, the board voted 4-2 to appoint Venice Holladay to a vacant board seat. There was little public discussion before the decision.

"If there was no technical violation of the Brown Act, there was a violation of the spirit of the Brown Act," said Record attorney Rachel Matteo-Boehm.

Holladay replaces Clem Lee, who left the board in December after being elected to the Stockton City Council. Trustees Katrina Rios and Ed Garcia voted against Holladay.

Most Stockton Unified trustees said Wednesday that they had discussed the candidates for the open seat outside public meetings but denied that they had collectively come to a decision about whom to appoint.

Rios denied speaking to any trustees about the candidates outside of public meetings. Yet Trustee Sarah Bowden said she had had phone discussions with board members Rios, Anthony Silva and Glen Dolberg about candidates before Tuesday's meeting.

"There was really no pressure exerted," Bowden said. "Maybe they were trying to exert pressure, but I never felt any pressure except from Clem Lee last night. They just gave me information I didn't necessarily know."

Lee had told the school board Tuesday night that voters might demand a special election if the board didn't appoint a qualified candidate.

The Brown Act forbids "serial meetings," in which officials communicate with each other on public business outside of public meetings, because the officials could develop a "collective concurrence" even without committing to a certain vote. Matteo-Boehm said that when the Stockton school board members discussed the pros and cons of candidates, a collective concurrence could result.

Dolberg said he and other trustees interact outside meetings but don't violate the Brown Act.

"Everybody interacts to some degree," Dolberg said. "It's not against the law to talk to each other."

"(Trustees) called me and I shared some of my views with them," Dolberg said.

Silva said trustees weren't given enough time to publicly discuss the candidates because Lee "came during that period and did all the talking."

The school board's discussion over whom to appoint Tuesday night lasted less than 30 minutes.

"We could have gone around and around," Silva said. "That thing could have taken all night."

Gonzales said board members have discussed issues -- including the candidates -- outside the boardroom but there was never talk or pressure on how to vote, he said.

"I don't want to go to the extent of saying, 'Hey, I want you to support this issue,' " Gonzales said. "But I will bounce things off of people and see where things are going. I think there's nothing wrong with that, and I think that's healthy."

The Record's attorney did not agree.

"It's troubling to me that these conversations occurred," said attorney Matteo-Boehm. "It sounds like a violation."

Trustees said they voted for Holladay because he's a "team player," has common sense and would help the board improve school safety.

Trustees Rios and Garcia both preferred candidate Marcia Knudsen. Garcia was unavailable for comment despite several attempts Wednesday by The Record to reach him.

Brown Act violations weren't the only problem with the appointment process.

According to the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, candidate Bruce Kern didn't reside in Area 5 -- a school board requirement for representing the area. He lives in Area 4. The school board never disqualified him.

Silva, the committee chair in charge of the appointment process, said he tried to check candidates' eligibility by consulting maps but never verified their eligibility with the Registrar of Voters.

"I did some checking and somehow that must have eluded me," Silva said. "If he (Kern) was really interested he should have checked."

The board also initially disqualified candidate James Whigham because he's a district employee, but then held a special meeting to interview him on Monday. Whigham never showed up.

Holladay's Area 5 seat represents the region generally bounded by Kensington Way and Baker Street to the west, Wilson Way and Sanguinetti Lane to the east, the Calaveras River to the north and Harding Way to the south. The area also includes parts of the city between North California Street and Baker and Edison streets.

Tuesday night was "the beginnings of dysfunction," Lee said.

"There are agendas at work that are not being made public and not being made visible," Lee said.

Lee emphasized that he has no ill feelings towards Holladay, and wishes him the best.

"I feel he is an innocent victim in all of this," said Lee, whose son attends school in the district.

Dolberg, Silva and Bowden countered that it is actually Lee with a political agenda.

"I was leaning myself to Mrs. Knudsen until there was such an overwhelming campaign suggesting there were other things afoot," Dolberg said.

Holladay said Wednesday he was excited to take over the vacant seat.

"I was kind of thrown a bit by the spirit of it," he said, adding that he was surprised he was chosen over some candidates who had good interviews with the board.

Holladay said he doesn't know any of the board members personally and did not speak with any of them between his interview and Tuesday.

"It was just something I would like to do for my community," he said. "This came up, and I thought I'd give it a shot."

School board told to get transparent

Voters group says educators should embrace spirit of open meetings law

Alameda Times Star, February 25, 2004, Jill Tucker

The Alameda County League of Women Voters chastised the county Board of Education for vague meeting agendas and minutes, saying the trustees were not meeting the intent of the Brown Act.

In a letter to the trustees dated Feb. 17, the chairwoman of the county League identified agenda items that didn't adequately specify potential actions to be taken by the board and meeting minutes that were vague.

For example, Lena Tam wrote, the Jan. 11 agenda listed an item as "Policy and Legislation Committee Meeting for approval of Board Policy 9250, sections 1.A and III, Item D," with no further explanation.

The first policy allows the board to increase its stipend annually by 5 percent, while the second policy gave trustees computers, faxes, phone lines and Internet service at no cost.

The policies were approved.

"The public had no clue that these two important items were to be discussed and approved," Tam wrote.

The letter called on the board to follow the "basic requirements" of the Brown Act, which ensures public access to and information about governmental meetings. Tam also urged the trustees to "go beyond the minimum requirements, and honor the spirit and intent of the act as well."

Board of Education President Yvonne Cerrato said she had seen the letter Wednesday and would be looking into each of the examples cited. The board would formally respond to the League of Women Voters as well, she added.

"Our intent is to be very diligent with the public to make sure they're adequately informed," Cerrato said.

Newark board vote a violation?

Committee told it voted illegally on Ruschin school recommendation

By Linh Tat, Newark Argus, March 15, 2005

A presentation scheduled for tonight from a committee advising the Newark school board whether it should sell Ruschin Elementary has been scrapped.

The decision was made Monday evening after school district officials and committee members were told by The Argus that a media law attorney says the members illegally cast secret ballots on their recommendations.

The committee was formed in 2003 to study whether Ruschin, a 10.11-acre campus worth an estimated $10 million, is surplus property the district should sell.

There were six options  three for keeping the site and three for selling  which committee members individually ranked on a form last month. The ballots then were tallied.

A recommendation to sell the site and use the money for deferred maintenance and capital projects was the most popular, followed by a suggestion to keep the site as is  home to an alternative high school, adult education school and a day care center  and one to keep the site and increase revenue from rents.

Committee member Hank Lewis said members voted by secret ballot, but he does not think the committee violated the state's open meeting law, known as the Brown Act.

"I believe the Brown Act is just to keep elected officials from voting behind closed doors," Lewis said. "(The attorney) can say the committee is an extension of the school board, but we were appointed."

But because the committee was created by the school board, it must adhere to the Brown Act, even if its role is only advisory, said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

"All votes have to be taken openly and publicly, and the public is entitled to know how each and every one of them voted," Ewert said.

Committee Chairman Bob Marshall refused to comment, but according to Superintendent John Bernard, it was Marshall who called off tonight's presentation.

Some committee members also have questioned whether all the ballots should have counted. Two members were absent from the last meeting, andwhile one, Melinda Pickens, turned her ballot in early, the other, Vickie Stephens, sent hers to the district office after the meeting.

Had Stephens' ballot not counted, the top two recommendations would have been to keep the site.

School board Vice President Charlie Mensinger said he asked Bernard on Monday to make sure the committee was satisfied with the process it used to determine its recommendations. Otherwise, he said, he would rather delay reviewing the committee's report.

"(The committee members) need to feel good about the process. If they don't feel good about the process, then I won't feel good about it, and I'll feel like we wasted everybody's time," Mensinger said.


SR school bonuses' legality at issue

2002 failure to note 2 awards in minutes after closed meeting attributed to clerical errors

By Robert Digitale, The Press Democrat , March 19, 2005

During the past four years Santa Rosa school board members voted in closed meetings to award bonuses to two top administrators, actions that in two cases never appeared in minutes of those sessions.

But the board is awaiting a determination from its attorney to see if the votes actually violated state open meetings law.

The board sought legal advice following a complaint to the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office by a school district employee.

"There isn't anybody on the board who believes that anything ought to be done in secret," said board member Bill Carle.

Bonuses given in 2002, one to then-Superintendent Mel Solie and another to Associate Superintendent Doug Bower, don't appear in any board minutes.

But Carle insisted that on each occasion the board members emerged from closed session back into the public forum and made announcements about the bonuses. He said the lack of corroboration in the minutes is due to clerical errors.

Even if the school attorney and the district attorney conclude that the closed session actions violated state public meetings law, the only result may be that the board must take the votes on the years-old bonuses again, this time in public session.

The bonuses total more than $95,000 during the past four years. It is the votes on those bonuses, not the bonuses themselves, that are at issue.

They were first brought to light in spring 2004 by Maxine Stornetta-Smith, a longtime school district secretary. In December she complained to the district attorney that the board had violated the state public meetings law when it voted on the bonuses in closed sessions.

"The public had no idea this was happening," Stornetta-Smith said, referring to a $20,000 bonus awarded to Solie and an $11,067.50 bonus given to Bower.

Her complaint came after she filed a lawsuit against the district in early 2003, alleging that administrators were violating the state Public Records Act by refusing to promptly allow her access to records about personnel actions the board had taken.

The lawsuit was settled in 2003 and Stornetta-Smith was given the public records.

She soon determined that while bonuses were publicly recorded for 2001 and 2003, there was no such record in 2002.

The state meeting law, generally known as the Brown Act, requires most government business to be conducted in public.

The law specifically allows school boards and other government groups to meet in closed session to evaluate the performance of employees.

But such bodies must discuss and decide compensation matters in public, said an attorney for a nonprofit group dealing with government access and free speech issues.

"You can't decide to give a bonus in closed session," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition. "It has to be done publicly. That's all there is to it."

District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua acknowledged receiving both a complaint against the school board and a response from the district. However, he declined comment on the legality of voting on bonuses in closed session.

"The only thing I can say is that the matter is pending review," Passalacqua said. "We are evaluating this entire matter closely and should hopefully have a decision by the end of this month."

Board minutes from 2001 note that the board gave Solie a bonus of $2,856. As well, bonuses of $22,000 in 2003 and $28,752 in 2004 for Solie are noted in the personnel transaction report.

A 2004 bonus of $11,067.50 for Bower was reported in personnel transactions.

But neither the minutes nor the personnel transactions note a June 12, 2002, bonus of $20,000 for Solie or a Sept. 25, 2002, bonus of $11,067.50 for Bower.

Stornetta-Smith said she learned of those bonuses after asking former board member Jere Jacobs if bonuses had been given in 2002.

Jacobs acknowledged the other bonuses, though not the amounts, in an April 19, 2004, letter.

To address the reporting issue, the board earlier this month was scheduled to vote on revising its old minutes from 2002. But board members postponed the action.

School attorney Andy Wick said school officials have assured him that after each of the 2002 votes the board disclosed the bonuses publicly.

Usually such an announcement takes place to an empty meeting room, but it is a requirement of state law.

Wick said he is analyzing the meeting law's requirements on bonuses.


Votes taken in secret to be recast

School board granted bonuses in closed sessions; D.A. reviewing actions

By Robert Digitale, The Press Democrat , April 8, 2005

Santa Rosa school board members are scheduled next week to vote publicly on staff bonuses that were previously approved behind closed doors in apparent violation of the state public meetings law.

The action will correct votes taken during the past four years. But school officials are refusing to explain why the votes are needed and instead are referring questions to school board attorney Andy Wick.

Wick was unavailable for comment Thursday and school officials claimed attorney-client privilege in refusing to release an opinion Wick drafted.

Board President Frank Pugh acknowledged the past board actions on the bonuses "need to be fixed" but he deflected questions on whether the board violated state law by granting them in closed session.

"I guess I would have to wait and see what the district attorney would say to that issue," Pugh said, referring to a review of the past votes by Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua. That review followed a complaint by a longtime district employee.

The board is slated to vote again Wednesday on four bonuses previously approved to two top administrators, former Superintendent Mel Solie, who retired last year, and current Associate Superintendent Doug Bower.

During the past four years the school board members voted in closed meetings to award six bonuses. In two cases the board's actions never appeared in minutes or related personnel reports.

The six bonuses total more than $95,000.

The employee who raised the complaint, Maxine Stornetta-Smith, maintains that state law requires school boards to vote on bonuses and other compensation matters in public session. Her complaint to the district attorney deals with the legality of votes on the bonuses, not the bonuses themselves.

Passalacqua said earlier this week that he expected to conclude his review of the matter soon, possibly by next week.

It remained unclear Thursday why the board was scheduled to vote on only four of the six bonuses. The two bonuses not slated for new action Wednesday were awarded in closed session last August.

"Why would they only do four of the six?" asked Stornetta-Smith. She said she would await Passalacqua's review before making further comment.

Pugh referred questions on the remaining two bonuses to the school district's attorney. But he said of the four other bonuses, the attorney had concluded "those are the ones that have a problem."

In bringing the bonuses to light, Stornetta-Smith previously had filed a lawsuit against the district, alleging that administrators were failing to promptly make available the personnel actions the board had taken.

After that suit was settled, Stornetta-Smith received the public records and soon discovered that bonuses were recorded in 2001 and 2003, but there were no records for bonuses handed out in 2002. School officials eventually acknowledged the board that year gave a $20,000 bonus to Solie and a bonus of $11,067.50 to Bower.

Wick, the school district's attorney, previously has said that even if the board failed to follow the law, the only action needed was to have the elected officials take the votes on the bonuses again, this time in open session.


Appeals court agrees Rio board erred

By John Scheibe, VenturaCountyStar.com, January 27, 2006

The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura this week upheld a judge's decision that Rio School District trustees violated the state's open-meeting law when they voted 2 years ago to fire Superintendent Yolanda Benitez.

The court would not, however, order the district to give Benitez back pay. Instead, it ruled that Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh erred in ordering the district to give back pay and benefits to Benitez. But it left the door open for Benitez to seek back pay and benefits through a lawsuit she filed in Superior Court.

Benitez, reached by telephone in Los Angeles, where she works as an education consultant, said she was ecstatic over the court's decision.

"I always knew we were going to win," Benitez said.

Benitez could be owed as much as $445,000 in back pay and benefits, said Nick Calderon, one of her attorneys. The Court of Appeal also ruled that Benitez is entitled to attorney fees and costs related to her legal defense that the district violated the Brown Act  the state's open-meeting law.

Esau Herrera, an attorney for the district, said trustees will discuss what to do next when they meet behind closed doors on Feb. 2.

Trustees placed Benitez on administrative leave during a closed-door meeting in March 2003, nearly eight years after she was hired to lead the often troubled school district. Their action came after the board received complaints alleging Benitez was abusing the district's bilingual education program. Benitez said the meeting violated the Brown Act because the board failed to notify her that it was considering taking disciplinary action.

Trustees voted 3-2 behind closed doors three months later to fire Benitez, even though she'd asked that they discuss her employment in public.

The district argued that Benitez was not entitled to a public hearing because the action to fire her was based on an internal investigation of her job performance.

Judge Walsh agreed that the district had violated the Brown Act. The district appealed Walsh's decision.

Benitez brought a separate lawsuit against the district, alleging that it violated her civil rights and her right to privacy, Calderon said. The lawsuit also alleges that the district owes Benitez back pay, since the board failed to follow the Brown Act when it voted to fire her, Calderon said. Benitez is alleging in another lawsuit that she's owed 28 days of vacation pay, Calderon said.

Those lawsuits were put on hold until the Court of Appeal decided whether the district violated the Brown Act, Calderon said. He said those lawsuits can now proceed.

Calderon said he fully expects Benitez will prevail in court, given the Court of Appeal's decision. Still, Calderon said, he hopes the district will agree to settle the two remaining lawsuits out of court.

Trustee Simon Ayala, who voted not to fire Benitez in 2003, said on Thursday he was saddened that the district has spent so much time and money on this case.

"Much of it has been a political vendetta against Mrs. Benitez to ruin her reputation," said Ayala, who now serves as the board's president. He said he hopes the district will settle with Benitez out of court, rather than spend more time and money on the case.

"I also want an investigation so that those who are responsible for all of this be held accountable," he said.

Trustee Henrietta Macias, who voted to fire Benitez, said the Court of Appeal's decision was a loss for Benitez, not the district.

"She got no back pay, she got zero," Macias said. As to an out-of-court settlement, Macias said she would be against it.

"Let her go to court; she won't win."


Rio District to pay $1.4 million to Benitez, attorneys

By John Scheibe, VenturaCountyStar.com, March 14, 2006

A deeply divided Rio School District board voted 3-2 Monday night to settle a long-standing and bitter lawsuit with its former superintendent by paying her and her attorneys nearly $1.4 million.

Under the agreement reached Monday night, Yolanda Benitez will receive $740,900. The breakdown is $380,900 for employment contract damages, $35,000 for accrued unpaid vacation, and $325,000 to settle a civil lawsuit. In addition, the district agreed to pay Benitez's attorneys $650,000 in fees.

Since July 1, the district has paid its own attorneys about $50,000. The amount from previous years was unavailable. Monday's vote came after a nearly five-hour meeting in which many speakers implored trustees not to settle with Benitez but continue the fight.

In the end, a majority of the board, including Trustee Ken Ortega, agreed the district would only dig itself into a deeper hole should it continue to battle Benitez.

"I don't see us winning in court," Ortega said. "We've already lost this case."

Trustee Ron Mosqueda disagreed.

"I didn't take an oath of office to give away public funds," Mosqueda said. "I'm not going to give away a penny without a fight."

Benitez was glad the battle has ended.

"I'm happy that this is over and that I can go on with my career, and the district can go on with its business of educating children," she said by telephone from her home late Monday.

The board fired Benitez in June 2003, after a series of allegations were brought against her, including that she cost the district millions of dollars through mismanagement.

Benitez, who'd served as superintendent of the struggling school district for eight years, filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit, accusing the district of damaging her reputation and violating her constitutional rights.

Benitez also filed another lawsuit, alleging the board had violated the state's open-meeting law  the Brown Act  when it placed her on administrative leave during a closed-door meeting months before she was fired.

School trustee says board met illegally

Complaint against Orange Unified goes to state and county officials

By Erica Perez, Orange County Register, February 27, 2006

ORANGE  Steve Rocco, the school trustee who shuns closed-door meetings and often abstains from voting, has filed a complaint with county and state officials against his fellow trustees, the district administration and others.

Rocco's Feb. 5 letter says Orange Unified School District trustees met illegally Feb. 10, 2005, to reprimand him and the district unfairly denied him stationery.

The letter was addressed to the attorney general, the Fair Political Practices Commission, the Orange County grand jury, the secretary of state and the District Attorney's Office.

"THE PARTNERSHIP has come to the Orange U.S.D.," Rocco wrote in a three-page, typewritten letter. He refused to talk to a reporter Tuesday.

Superintendent Tom Godley said no law was broken.

Since Rocco won his seat in November 2004 against a better-funded opponent, he has given a few monologues referring to the "partnership" - business and political leaders he says conspire against him.

Trustee Kathy Moffat said the board never met illegally. Members reconvened in closed session after an open meeting to finish the night's business.

"If Mr. Rocco had not chosen of his own volition to abstain from those meetings, he would be right on board," she said.

Trustees can use district stationery if they have board approval or are writing letters of recommendation, according to a Dec. 8, 2005, policy.

The District Attorney's Office is reviewing the letter, said Deputy District Attorney Susan Schroeder.

Orange Unified trustees seek to censure Rocco

The board will vote on a resolution that says Trustee Steve Rocco violated The Brown Act.

By Erica Perez, Orange County Register, September 26, 2006

ORANGE  Two Orange Unified School District trustees are requesting a public hearing to discipline Trustee Steve Rocco for comments he made at a meeting two weeks ago.

Rocco publicly stated Sept. 14 that he "would fire" a school administrator, who he named, and he would ask the administrator if he came to a school board meeting, "Why aren't you fired yet?"

That's according to the resolution proposed by Board President Kimberlee Nichols and Trustee Wes Poutsma.

Rocco hung up on a reporter today and did not comment.

The resolution says that Rocco violated The Brown Act.

Among the law's requirements is that personnel issues  like firing a school administrator  be discussed behind closed doors, said the California School Boards Association's Ioannis Kazanis.

School boards can publicly censure a board member, but there is no fine associated with it, Kazanis said.

Rocco garnered national headlines in November 2004, when he was elected to the Orange Unified Board of Trustees without spending a dime or showing his face.

His trademark knit cap, dark sunglasses and talk of conspiracies swelled audiences at the school board meetings.

In 2005, he abstained on about a third of the votes, voted no on 22 percent of them, and was absent for 19 percent. He did not attend closed-session meetings.

The board will vote Thursday night on setting a public hearing for Oct. 12, when they would vote on whether to adopt the resolution.

Superintendent Tom Godley said he cut out the last few minutes of the Sept. 14 meeting from the cable broadcast of the session.

Godley said he talked to legal counsel and decided broadcasting Rocco's comments would be a liability risk for the district. The public can view the full video of the meeting at the district office.

Orange Unified trustee criticized principal

Steve Rocco, who may face censure, said he'd fire former Villa Park High School principal, according to audio records

By Erica Perez, Orange County Register, September 26, 2006

ORANGE  Orange Unified Trustee Steve Rocco criticized the district for reassigning a principal from a high-performing school to a campus for at-risk youth, according to a recording obtained Tuesday.

Trustees vote Thursday on setting a public hearing for Oct. 12, when they could vote on whether to censure Rocco for saying Sept. 14 he "will fire" former Villa Park High School Principal Ben Rich.

Rich was removed after 19 parents, teachers and students complained about him at an Aug. 24 board meeting. They criticized his schedule changes to several classes.

Superintendent Tom Godley sent a confidential letter to trustees Sept. 8 saying Rich would likely be named principal on special assignment at Richland Continuation School, said district spokeswoman Victoria Webber. That decision is now final.

Rocco could not be reached Tuesday. But he said at the September meeting that transferring Rich was a bad move.

"To send Ben Rich from probably one of the best-performing schools in this district to one of the least-performing schools does a disservice to the students," Rocco said.

"I will fire Ben Rich. It would send a message, and it would stop a practice which has gone on for a long time. ... When the consequences come down that you're not doing a good job, you just get transferred."

Rich declined to comment.

The resolution to censure Rocco says he violated board policies and went against the intent of the Brown Act.

The law allows trustees to discuss issues like hiring and firing in closed session, but it does not specifically require it, said Ron Wenkart, general counsel for the Orange County Department of Education.

However, Wenkart said, a district opens itself up to lawsuits if trustees say anything publicly that would discourage future potential employers from hiring an administrator.

Rocco made national headlines in 2004 when he was elected without campaigning.

In addition to talking about Rich, Rocco named several employees who have relatives working in the district, describing that as nepotism.

He offended Trustee John Ortega when he asked Ortega about his brother, a former district employee who died.

Rocco, activist group sue Orange Unified over censure

Joined by Californians Aware, board member argues his speech was protected and that the district misled the public

By Erica Perez, Orange County Register, November 28, 2006

ORANGE  Orange Unified School District board member Steve Rocco and an activist group have filed a lawsuit claiming the district violated the Brown Act and the California Constitution.

A 27-page petition, filed last week by Rocco and Richard P. McKee, President of Californians Aware, focuses mainly on the board's decision to censure Rocco on Oct. 12.

Rocco had said he would fire former Villa Park High School Principal Ben Rich instead of reassigning him.

The censure resolution claimed Rocco's comments about Rich had violated both the Brown Act and the Constitution  an allegation McKee disputed.

McKee argues Rocco's statements were protected speech and that the district misled the public by misinterpreting the laws. Californians Aware is a nonprofit group that advocates open government meetings.

The petition demands that the district rescind the censure resolution against Rocco and take several steps to ensure free speech and open meetings are sustained.

McKee won a settlement from OUSD in 2003 because the district violated the Brown Act. As a result, trustees were required to tape closed-session meetings for three years.


Open Government Threatened by Recent Court Rulings

By Terry Francke, General Counsel and Founder, Californians Aware

Sunshine Week (March 15-21) is a national celebration of open government, but here in California a court decision has favored the suppression of dissent and cost a long-time open government advocate $80,000.

More than four years ago the people of California went to the polls and, by an overwhelming 83 percent support for Proposition 59, passed a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing the public fundamental access to the meetings and records of their local and state government agencies.

This month, however, despite those constitutional protections, California courts finalized an order that a small public interest non-profit group and its past president must pay nearly $86,000 for merely asking them to protect the public