In honor of Sunshine Week, March 13-19, City of Gilroy Public Information Officer Joe Kline is informing locals about the city information available to them, and each individual's right to access that information. celebrates open government and freedom of information.
For government to be effective, it’s very important for citizens to exercise not only their rights, but their responsibilities. For this to take place, the inner workings of government must be understandable and transparent.
In the state of California, the procedures used to run meetings and report what transpires is governed by a statute known as the Brown Act.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, was authored by California State Assembly member Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953. It guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
The Brown Act, originally a 686 word statute that has grown substantially over the
years, was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials. The primary concern was to ensure public access to governing board meetings and require decisions of the governing body to be made in public. The Brown Act applies to California cities and counties, special districts, school boards and other governmental agencies.
In my 12-year tenure as the public information officer for the City of Gilroy, the Brown Act has been considered the fundamental basis for ensuring meetings and
decisions are conducted in public and Gilroy governmental proceedings and reporting typically exceeded the minimum requirements set forth by the Brown Act.
The Brown Act provides for very limited circumstances in which closed sessions may be conducted in order to protect the city’s, and therefore the residents, rights or position in certain matters such as litigation, employment matters and real estate matters. The Brown Act purposely limits what a city council can discuss in these sessions and requires certain public reporting after such sessions.
In order to bolster the Brown Act and set forth Gilroy’s independent commitment to transparency, the city council passed an Open Government Ordinance in 2008.
Additionally, an Open Government Commission, comprised of three city council
members, was established to review transparency issues brought before it by the
public. Though Gilroy had “open government” well in advance of the ordinance, a formal ordinance raises the bar even higher than the requirements commonly used throughout the state.
Today, we have many tools at our disposal to convey what’s happening in city
government. Our city TV channel, channel 17, has been televising council and
planning commission meetings since 1990. A major improvement was made to this service in 2003 when video streaming was implemented, enabling Channel 17
programming to be viewed live or recorded by anyone with a computer and Internet access anywhere in the world.
About 15 years ago, the city launched its first website, which has been upgraded many times since then. Social networking is the latest tool. The city has three Facebook sites, and publishes quarterly newsletters, budget and sales tax information and other special reports via email to subscribers who can sign up for such information on the city’s homepage. We also welcome and encourage public participation at city meetings. These meetings are noticed well in advance, and agendas are available on the city website.
We strive to do our best to make understandable information widely available in many formats. This can be challenging at times due to the technical nature of some issues. Suggestions on ways to improve what we do are always welcome.
As a resident of Gilroy for over a half century, and working in the private sector for three decades, I understand the importance of timely, understandable, factual information in helping you, the citizen, fulfill your responsibility in helping us make Gilroy a better place to live and work.