The District Attorney of Kings County asked the California Attorney General for an opinion as to whether the state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act (“Act’), permitted a water district to hold its board meetings at its principal office which is located outside of the district. The Attorney General opined that the language of the Act specifically permitted the water district to hold its board meetings at its principal office even though it is located outside of the district. (Attorney General Opinion No. 09-1101, August 24, 2011).
Attorney General Opinion
The Act requires that legislative bodies of local government agencies conduct business and deliberations in open and public sessions. A water district is a local agency for the purposes of the Act and its board of directors is a “legislative body of a local agency” and therefore subject to the Act.
Generally, the Act requires that regular and special meetings be held within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction, but the Act provides exceptions. One, in Government Code Section 54954(b)(4), permits the legislative body to “meet in the closest meeting facility if the local agency has no meeting facility within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction, or at the principal office of the local agency if that office is located outside the territory over which the agency exercises jurisdiction.”
That language, the Attorney General said, is clear and unambiguous. It allows the local agency to hold its meetings at its principal office and does not impose conditions on that permission. Furthermore, the word “or” in the middle of that section serves to sever the “closeness” requirement in the first part from the permission granted in the second part. The word “or,” signifies the Legislature’s intent to designate alternate ways of satisfying statutory requirements. The Attorney General reasoned that if the Legislature had intended for the legislative body to meet at a location closer to the district than the agency’s principal office, it could easily have done so in the statute.
Any policy arguments in favor of requiring agency directors to meet within the district or at a location nearer the district are the purview of the Legislature. The plain language of the Act, however, allows that a water district may hold its board meetings at the principal office of the district located outside of the district boundaries.
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Jeffrey L. Massey | 916.321.4500