Keep foundation meetings open

March 02, 2003

When the Costa Mesa City Council discusses a project, the public may

attend that meeting. When the council discusses an employee's

performance, the meeting is closed to the public. These concepts are

simple, really.

Does it get any less simple when a council-appointed committee

meets to discuss how to distribute $2 million in public money? No.

The public should still be able to attend the meeting. After all,


it's the public's money, and it's a public committee.

It's so simple, yet two foundations that the City Council created

two weeks ago do not have to abide by the same open-meeting laws that

the council must adhere to.

That law, the state's Brown Act, requires that the public be

allowed to attend meetings of public decision-making bodies. The only

exceptions that would leave the public out of the meetings are lack

of a quorum and discussions of pending litigation and personnel

issues. Those talks are private.

The City Council created two foundations that will decide how to

distribute $2 million in Home Ranch Development Agreement funding to

three Costa Mesa schools -- Costa Mesa and Estancia High and TeWinkle

Middle schools. But even though the funds belong to the public and

will be used for the public's benefit, the foundations do not have to

abide by the Brown Act.

Mayor Karen Robinson, a lawyer for the Cal State University

System, urged her council colleagues to apply the Brown Act to the

foundations, but ended up losing that argument.

As she said then, "It's a matter of law, not a matter of trust."

It's also a matter of perception. Sure, meetings may be open to

the public, but at the same time, it's not necessarily illegal now

for the foundations to meet privately.

It would behoove the City Council and the foundations to ensure

the public that the use of its money is open to public discussion. So

keep these meetings open to the public and make it extremely clear to

the public why some meetings have to be held privately.

The public deserves an open government. After all, it's the

public's money.

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