Rumors of the demise of California's 59-year-old open meeting law have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, state lawmakers suspended two of the Ralph M. Brown Act's procedural requirements -- the 72-hour advance posting of agendas plus reports of actions taken in closed session -- but the decision probably won't have an immediate practical effect.
Most cities and counties say they will continue to comply even without the money the state is supposed to pay local governments when it mandates certain services.
"Cities view open government as fundamental to how they operate," said League of California Cities chief Chris McKenzie. "It has become a core value and it is deeply embedded into the city culture."
Contra Costa County and most of its 19 cities confirmed they will continue to meet the two suspended provisions. The core of the Brown Act remains intact, which requires the public's business to be conducted in public. (Read the act at www.thefirstamendment.org.)
The act is "about good government and transparency, and is worth doing regardless of whether we get reimbursed for it," Moraga Town Manager Jill Keimach said.
"We have done it this way for so long that way I am not certain we would even know how to do it otherwise," Clayton City Manager Gary Napper said.
That's good news for open government advocates because cities haven't collected a dime for Brown Act
Oh, cities faithfully sent invoices each year to Sacramento.
Pleasant Hill, Concord and San Ramon, for example, bill the state roughly $30,000 a year. Contra Costa estimates the state owes the county $1.4 million for costs incurred since 2006.
When the state's budget began drying up, lawmakers started deferring payments for dozens of requirements heaped upon local agencies but kept the laws intact.
In this year's withered budget, the state abandoned all pretense of paying and outright set aside many of the laws.
Suspending the two sections of the Brown Act will save the state $96 million, according to the Department of Finance. The balance of the 60-plus suspensions, deferrals and mandate expirations will strip from its books an additional $632.8 million.
Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax hike measure, if successful, lifts the Brown Act suspensions.
But even if voters nix the tax, the vast majority of cities and counties will keep doing what they have done for decades.
For one, residents would scream bloody murder if their elected official quit posting agendas or disclosing their closed-session actions. And many agencies have adopted open government rules that exceed those of the Brown Act, including Contra Costa County and Lafayette.
But laws are written with scofflaws in mind. (Anyone remember Bell?)
Inevitably, in the absence of a mandate, some city or a county board will declare the agenda process too costly or keep mum about a critical vote, and open government advocates will have no legal recourse.
To that end, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is writing a bill that makes the entire Brown Act mandatory independent of state payment, according to news reports.
Paying local agencies to do what they do anyway is silly.
Allowing them to opt out of a critical government transparency law is dangerous.
GOT POLITICS? Read the Political Blotter at IBABuzz.com/politics:
N Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has had it up to you-know-where with her squabbling councilmates. After yet another public brouhaha at a council meeting, McLaughlin sent out a scathing letter that puts the full blame at the feet of Councilman Corky Booze. Read her letter and Booze's response.
N Yes, Contra Costa County is short on cash but the dead grass, six-foot-high weeds and dying shrubs outside its Arnold Drive offices is disgraceful. See pictures and read what county Public Works Director Julie Bueren had to say.
AND FINALLY: People are so darned creative.
At a recent Contra Costa board of supervisors meeting, Contra Costa TV cameraman Bruce Stamm checked his cell phone for available Wi-Fi connections.
One option screamed out, titled, "FBI SURVEILLANCE."
Whoa, Nelly! We all whipped out our cell phones and scanned our Wi-Fi connections but this one mysteriously appeared only on Stamm's phone.
Just as wild speculation about why the FBI was tracking a mild-mannered CCTV camera operator threatened to push the poor man's blood pressure into critical, a county staffer explained the curious phenomenon.
Seriously, if FBI agents were watching Stamm, would they announce it on his cell phone? OK, if you put it that way.
Instead, a nearby paranoid residential Wi-Fi network owner probably attached the fearsome title to discourage hackers.
I don't know if the mere mention of the FBI will deter a clever tightwad neighbor looking for a way to save a buck on Internet fees. But we know it works on cameramen.