The Oakland-based Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) is the latest—and quickest to reverse course—local agency challenged by Californians Aware for using an "ad hoc" label to allow its governing board's committees to duck the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act.
Only hours after a blistering editorial in the nearby Contra Costa Times, the BART board ordered a halt to the operation of some 20 "ad hoc" committees that CalAware was beginning to probe in preparation for litigation. These panels will either go public or be dissolved after a staff report on how to correct the problem.
The problem is that most if not all of these panels are not properly exempt from the Brown Act as "ad hoc" committees—short-lived task groups assigned to address a particular issue and report back to the full board within a set period—but instead should be meeting openly with posted agendas as standing committees, since they are given only a broad, even vague title and a list of members named to them, and operate from year to year as a continuing subunit of the governing board.
The so-called "ad hoc" committees created by the BART board, for example, which have been meeting neither openly nor with an announced agenda, include those titled as Alternative and Mobile Fare Payments, Business Advancement Program, District Executive Management Diversity, District Security and Seismic Safety, District Strategic Representation, Expansion of District Presence, Rail Car Procurement Funding, Small/Minority/Women-Owned Business & Bonding, Sustainability/Green, Automatic Fare Collection, High Speed Rail, Redistricting, Station Capital Program, Strategic Funding Initiatives and West Dublin/Pleasanton Station.
The Contra Costa Times promptly issued a follow-up editorial today urging prompt corrective action, and recommending that most of these two- or three-member panels be dissolved, with their subject matter left to one of the board's three standing committees. In addition, the editorial remarks on "a silly system under which the standing committees meet as part of the full board meeting. All of the board members attend. The only difference from the full board meeting is that there is a different chairperson, thereby stroking the egos of other board members by allowing them to say they chair a committee. It's a farce."
Meanwhile CalAware's Litigation Committee has approved filing suit against two Orange County cities, each of which it believes is abusing the "ad hoc" exemption from the Brown Act. Correction demand letters sent to Costa Mesa and Aliso Viejo attack the use of various just-created "working groups" on the one hand and an "Ad Hoc Transportation Committee" operating for more than two years on the other.
Costa Mesa's city attorney replied, defended its "working group" approach within days of the challenge but now the city council has set the matter to be discussed at its June 7 . Aliso Viejo has not responded but will address the challenge at its city council meeting next Wednesday, June 1.
Readers aware of cities or other local agencies whose governing bodies maintain "ad hoc" committees that do not meet openly but have no defined task to perform and no wind-up date—especially those in existence for a long period—are encouraged to report full particulars to CalAware.