The Oakland Sunshine Ordinance and the State of California's open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, contain specific requirements to ensure that the public has an effective right to learn about, attend, and participate in public meetings. With few exceptions, all city boards, commissions, and their respective committees must conduct their business publicly and provide ample notice of the items to be considered.
The Basic Rule
Meetings of public bodies, such as the City Council and many of Oakland's advisory boards and commissions, are governed by laws requiring that business be conducted openly and only after the public has been notified a sufficient time in advance of any meeting.
Local legislative bodies shall not convene a meeting unless and until adequate public notice has been provided.
What Is a Local Legislative Body?
In Oakland, local legislative bodies include:
- The City Council, Port Board, Planning Commissionand Public Ethics Commission,
- Any board, commission, task force or committee established by the City Charter, ordinance or by City Council action, and
- Any advisory board, commission or task force created and appointed by the Mayor which exists for longer than a 12-month period. Any standing committee of the above entities are also considered a local legislative body.
[O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(E)]
What Counts as a Meeting?
A meeting is a congregation of a majority of a local legislative body in which any item within its jurisdiction is “heard, discussed, deliberated or acted upon.” This definition includes meal gatherings before, during or after a formal meeting. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(F)]
It is not necessary that the local legislative body "take action" in order to constitute a meeting. Almost any gathering by a majority of members to receive information, hear a proposal, or discuss views on an issue can constitute a meeting. Meetings can include such gatherings as retreats, workshops, and so-called "team building" or "goal setting" activities.
Beware of “Serial Meetings”
Use of direct communication or intermediaries that causes a majority to become aware of the views of other members is prohibited. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(F)] An illegal meeting can occur even if members do not gather in the same place at the same time. Just communicating before a meeting can constitute an illegal meeting if it involves a majority of members. Sending emails is an especially easy way to violate this provision because of the ease of involving more members than originally intended (e.g. forwarding or hitting "reply to all").
What Is Adequate Public Notice?
For most regularly scheduled meetings of Oakland's local legislative bodies, a copy of the meeting agenda must be posted at least 72 hours before the meeting in a location that is freely accessible to the public 24-hours a day. In addition, copies of agendas and agenda-related materials (staff reports, draft minutes, correspondence, etc.) must be placed on file in the City Clerk’s Office and Main Library, and they must also be posted on the agency’s website. Consequently, all Oakland boards and commissions must post all meeting agendas on the City’s website by the agenda posting deadline [O.M.C. Section 2.20.080].
For special meetings (that is, meetings that are called in addition to, or in place of, the regular meeting schedule) public notice must be given at least 48 hours before the stated time of the meeting (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays), by:
- Posting a copy of the agenda in a location freely accessible to the public;
- Filing a copy of the agenda and copies of all agenda-related material in the Office of the City Clerk,
- Delivering a copy of the agenda to each member of the local legislative body, news media and any person who has previously requested notice in writing,
- Post a copy of the agenda for any special meeting on-line at the local body's website.
[O.M.C. Section 2.20.070]
Meeting agendas must specify the date, time, and location of the meeting and a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed. Agenda items should be informative and give the public sufficient information to decide whether or not to attend a meeting. Agendas must avoid the use of abbreviations or acronyms whose meaning would not be known to the general public. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(A)]
New State Law Establishes Additional Requirements (Effective January 2019)
A new state law passed in 2016, AB 2257, added new accessibility requirements for online agenda postings in addition to those outlined above.
AB 2257 provides two options for compliance:
An agency that maintains a website must post a direct link to the current agenda on its primary homepage. Additionally, the agenda must be:
- retrievable, downloadable, indexable, and electronically searchable by common internet browsers;
- platform independent and machine readable; and
- available to the public, free of charge and without restrictions that might interfere with the reuse or redistribution of the agenda.
An agency may implement an integrated agenda management platform, such as the City’s agenda management platform Granicus, as a dedicated webpage to provide the necessary agenda information. If the platform contains prior agendas, the most current agenda must be located at the top of the page.
To satisfy AB2257 requirements, all meeting notices, including a link to the agenda, must be posted at least 72 hours prior to a regular meeting on your web homepage. For information on how to utilize Granicus, contact Mike Munson at (510)238-6565 or MMunson@oaklandca.gov.