Authored Articles & Publications Apr 23, 2015

Closed Session Final Decision and Vote Details Must Be Publicly Reporter at the Same Public Meeting

BB&K Attorneys Gary Schons and Tori Hester Explore Open Meeting Laws in California Special District Magazine

By Gary Schons and Victoria Hester

Pasadena City College is facing criticism — and a lawsuit — for its perceived lack of transparency regarding its Board of Trustees’ vote to approve a $400,000 severance package for controversial former school President Mark Rocha. The lawsuit, filed September 25, 2014 by Sacramento-based watchdog group Californians Aware, claims the board took the action in closed session to avoid a public hearing. The board cited “anticipated litigation” as the reason for the closed session. But, according to the lawsuit, the severance package was part of Rocha’s existing contract and was not a result of any litigation or litigation threat.

The board unanimously approved the severance package during a closed session on August 6, but failed to announce the decision during the open session of the same meeting, as required under California’s Brown Act, which regulates meetings of governing bodies. The Brown Act generally requires that all votes taking final action on a matter in closed session be publicly reported orally or in writing at the public meeting. In addition, copies of any contracts or settlement agreements finally approved (not those awaiting approval of the other party) must be made available promptly. In addition to failing to report the vote, college officials also failed to make the severance package available when reporters beg n requesting it. If a judge rules against the college, the severance package could be voided and the board would have to take a legal vote on the issue, which could include a public hearing.

To read the full article in the March-April 2015 edition of California Special District magazine, click here. Reprinted with permission.

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