Bill that threatens public role in teleconference meetings to be heard next week

Imagine showing up to a public meeting to find one member of the body sitting at the dais and conducting a teleconference as the other members board planes or sit at home, participating without facing the public.

This could be reality under AB 2958 , authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), which seeks to “modernize” the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act by loosening up the restrictions on teleconference participation at state agency meetings. The true intent of the bill is to make participating in public meetings “more convenient” for those who serve state agencies.

CNPA is opposing the bill as written and urging the author to retain the requirements of existing law which ensure that any teleconference location is accessible to the public and that the public has a right to speak and participate at that location. The provision that memorializes this guarantee in the Bagley-Keene Act – which AB 2958 seeks to repeal – represents an important and carefully crafted compromise which CNPA helped negotiate back in 1994 when tentatively approving of the idea that teleconference participation should be permitted.

As CNPA argued in its letter, a key element of California’s open meetings laws is requiring public officials to appear before the public when doing public business. “In participatory democracy, there are intangible benefits to requiring public officials to literally face the crowd. The current teleconference rule was crafted to maintain the integrity of the democratic process by requiring that public officials actually do business in public-not behind closed doors or while driving on the streets to avoid a public confrontation.”

The Assembly Governmental Organizations committee will hear the bill at its next hearing on April 4.