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Tag Archives: Oxnard College

The Brown Act

Several people have suggested to me that the recent “suspension” of the Brown Act by the California Legislature means local educational boards and governance entities do not have to follow it.  I do not agree with that interpretation.  For one thing, the Brown Act is a federal issue, and for another, the California bill did not suspend the act – it suspended funding for local agencies that had been receiving funds to help implement the act.

Further, both the Ed. Code and Title V have similar provisions for transparency in public education.  The main intent of all of this is to make sure meetings are open and no one can be turned away, asked to involuntarily sign in, or be “vetted” in any way in order to attend and  listen/view the meeting.  These are values I strongly believe in, as do the members of the Oxnard College Academic Senate and Oxnard College Administration, as they agreed to follow these principles in our manual of shared governance.

Having said that, the Legislature is recognizing that funds are lacking for the actual staff and resources to comply with the Brown Act.  Yes, that’s how bad it is, budget wise.

But in researching the Brown Act, rather obsessively, for the last few days, I learned some very interesting things.

Indoor bulletin boards in regular office buildings are a NO-NO

Posting on an indoor bulletin board of any kind, while nice, does not meet the requirements of the Brown Act unless that building is open and accessible to the public 24 hours a day for the 3 days prior to the meeting.  24 hours a day.  Not 8 or 9 or 12 hours.  It can be a window that’s visible from outside.  It is good practice to include at the bottom of every agenda exactly where the place should be.  Our own VCCCD Board of Trustees (Patty Blair is an expert in this, btw, if you have questions), has a glassed in bulletin board outside the building, which is accessible 24 hours a day.  They post in advance of the 72 hours (good job, VCCCD BOT).

This is an easy fix.  Any kiosk will do.  Post as low as needed for a seated person in a wheelchair to read it.  The kiosk is probably best located near to where the meeting is going to be held.  Windows are okay, too – and probably more likely to be seen.  We’ll have to talk about that.

Now, this sounds primitive.  Everyone and their brother knows that what we really do is post on the internet.  That’s perfectly okay as long as you also post in a totally FREE spot (the internet costs money; libraries aren’t open 24 hours a day, etc., etc).  

Some people think that California’s AB 1344 makes it okay to JUST use an online posting.  Nope.  What it says is that if the posting body (in this case, our Academic Senate) has its own webpage (we don’t), then we CAN post there IN ADDITION to posting in the free, publicly available space.  Here is what AB 1344 amended:

SEC. 8. Section 54954.2 of the Government Code is amended to read:

54954.2. (a) (1) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words. The agenda shall specify the time and location of the regular meeting and shall be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public AND on the local agency’s Internet Web site, if the local agency has one.  (my emphasis added).

We (the Academic Senate) are the local educational association in question (and by the way, local educational entities made up entirely of employees, as we are, are specifically exempted from some other rules about online posting that have recently been proposed but not yet enacted).  The website you are reading now is my own website (it does not belong to the Academic Senate, it may be useful to the Academic Senate – just like an indoor bulletin board).  The Academic Senate does not have its own website but our local governance document (the Participatory Governance Manual) provides for our use of the College’s website, which is as it should be.  

So we don’t have to post on the internet – but we do it anyway.  In two places:  sharepoint and on the college’s webpage.  It is voluntary, which is useful, because our Academic Senate President is off raising money to cure Breast Cancer right now and we had to have a flurry of emails while she’s trying to focus on her run in order to post our revised agenda (which went out by email, and was – yes – posted on TWO kiosks near to the meeting place!)  Revised agendas, by the way, do not need to be posted 72 hours in advance (obviously) but 24 hours in advance – and we exceeded that.   Not because we have to.  But because we believe, and affirm, that following the Brown Act (even if we don’t have to) is part of a representative, democratic, anti-backroom politics kind of transparency.  Who would disagree with that, right?

Which brings me to another lesson (my own lesson, I am learning it).  Who is subject to the Brown Act in the first place?  Why aren’t all those District Committees subject to the Brown Act (or are they?)  They do post “notes” but not minutes.  Sometimes they ratify their notes (usually, not always).  Consultation Council is clearly a body designed to influence the actions of the Board, it should be Brown Act (MY opinion; but also the opinion of Michelle Pilati, if I understood her correctly today – and she referred me to someone she says is expert in this area).  Our own PGM specifically states that committees follow the Brown Act (and I hope to do a little revising to make that even more clear; I think that some of the subcommittees of the Academic Senate are specifically bound to follow the Brown Act – but some Academic Senates have language in their charters that exempt them from the Brown Act; so go figure).

But…does CUDS (for example) fall under the Brown Act?  Here are the triggers for the Brown Act:

Are you a Board of Trustees for a state educational institution?  (No, we are not; CUDS is not).

Are you a group specifically created by or authorized to provide direct feedback to the Board? (Yes, the Academic Senate is; CUDS is not).

Do you constitute a regularly meeting group that advises a group that is authorized to give direct feedback to the Board?  (Well, hmmm.  Last year CUDS didn’t report back to Senate, even once; it recommended actions by M & O, it recommended actions to the police; it’s in our shared governance handbook BUT it does say that it “advises” or “recommends” to the Senate).  But here’s the good part:  in our own Participatory Governance Handbook, we say that we, as a local group, expect PGM committees to behave as Brown Act entities.  This is by local decision.  Probably a very good idea.  By the way, CUDS is supposed to report back to the Senate.  Is reporting considered “advice”?  No.  Should we add the word “advice” to our PGM.  Yes.  That’s what CUDS does, so we should be clear about it – and then CUDS falls under the Brown Act.  

So, I think we should revise the PGM just a tiny bit (we’re revising anyway) to make sure that each of the PGM committees says specifically in its charge that it reports to and advises the Senate as needed.  Right?

Now – after all that, what if we really don’t have staff to post on the internet and the State has passed a bill exempting us, for budgetary reasons, from posting.  Well, we don’t have to post, we will not be prosecuted in the State of California.

But my new mantra is:

KIOSKS.  There’s one right by the library, there’s another one between the OE building and the Admin Building – let’s pick one and use it regularly.  And, while we’re at it, we will bring all of our agendas into compliance with the ADA, which currently they are not.  Maybe windows (although for some reason that bothers me aesthetically).  I’m hoping to get a nice label on the Kiosk near the Library and put a little notice to reserve one half of one of the three sides for Academic Senate and PGM postings.  Then, our workers will only have to post in one place (as required) and there won’t be so much running around and potential for missing Brown Act requirements.  Remember, only the physical posting is required; the electronic posting is voluntary – but we will continue to do it.  However, should the servers go down, and we’ve posted properly according to Federal rules we can proceed.  This isn’t just my opinion, there’s case law here too.

These are scary times.  Apparently the County of Mendocino and a few other places are no longer posting agendas anywhere (just how much can that cost?  It can be taped in a window!)  The “cost reimbursement” was originally supposed to be for ADA compliance (people who need a Braille agenda, for example).  It got up to about $98,000,000 in claims for state money for Braille agendas, large print agendas, spoken word agendas, etc.  So they had to suspend all public support of the Brown Act for that reason – but that does not mean that we can’t volunteer to safeguard our freedoms.

KIOSKS.   Am I going to stop putting things up on sharepoint?  Of course not.  But on a day when I revise an agenda and our AS Secretary is off duty, and I don’t yet have Omniupdate permissions, I know now that KIOSKS are my friend.  I will continue to pester all of you with agenda changes, supporting documents (don’t have to be mailed at any particular time or put on kiosks OR sharepoint – but we will but them on sharepoint, NOT kiosks).  And btw, the other co-chairs of PGM committees might want to think through their practices too.  I am eagerly looking forward to suggestions from other AS Presidents (past and present) as well as the State AS expert on procedure.

Further references.  ASCCC 1991 Overview

By the way, it is firmly my belief that when the Board okayed the District’s Participatory Governance Handbook it established committees that have regular, on-going advisory roles, and by so establishing, subjected them to the Brown Act – but the PGH disagrees.

What a kiosk may look like – ours are nicer

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The Chancellor and his council have proposed a new governing document

Dated:  May 21, 2012.  We have a new Chancellor now!  We also have a new District Participatory Governance Manual, which you can find linked to the District’s Homepage (www.vcccd.edu)

 

While we are a small college, we still have the same big issues as any college. The first time I attended a school board meeting, I was in high school. The issue was: should girls be allowed to wear pants to school? It was a long battle, but in the end, I believe there were decisions from the courts: no one could make a girl wear a dress. Our board voted that, while we could wear pants, they could not have a fly front. Go figure (they changed that the next year).

As a cub reporter for the Ventura County Star Free Press (and the Santa Paula Chronicle), I had the school beat. I attended similar board meetings at Ventura College (it wasn’t a multi-college district back then). The issue was young women and their dress, but also young men and their dress. It worked much the same way as in the Santa Paula school district.

What strikes me now is that the Superintendent/Chairman of the Board (they were Chairmen back then, no Chairpersons), really allowed comments from the floor, if he found it was warranted. There was no digital countdown clock telling members of the public when they had to stop talking. It was rather lively. As the evening wore on, the vociferous and/or energetic people got to say more. That’s not always fair, but that’s how it was.

At university, I continued my career as a journalist (while majoring in anthropology) and became a news reporter for the campus radio station. My beat was the Academic Senate. So, I have quite a bit of experience in looking at Academic Senates, at one point attended San José State’s Academic Senate for comparison and of course, have been attending VCCCD Academic Senates since around 1989, when I was first hired full-time.

If you had told me, three years ago, I’d have anything to do with sitting on an Academic Senate governing body, I’d have been incredulous. It’s just such a lot of work, and there are so many meetings. Today, I heard the term MW (it’s like an AW except it’s for Meetings instead of Attention). I am not an MW (see urban dictionary if you are over 18 and want to know how modern people use the lingo – you can find AW there and make the translation), but I’ve come to see the value of a collective of people working things out.  Politics are involved.  People actually bring their own strategies, interests and agendas into meetings, not just their viewpoints and opinions.  Big Surprise!  (Need a funny motivational poster here).

I’m hoping this blog will provide a way for sharing documents (there’s a lot of homework for these meetings) and I intend to indicate just about how much time I spend reading the documents, forwarding them to relevant parties and asking (sometimes begging) for input. California is an amazing state, a true Republic, and its laws call for faculty to have input into educational matters, especially at the college and university levels. It takes patience, reading, notetaking – and research. It also helps to have a quick mind for detail like Jenny’s and to be slow to take offense, like Robert. (That’s not an exhaustive list of their great qualities, btw).

With the magic of technology, we can transmit, read and comment upon thousands of words of bureaucratic language and legalese, all at the core of contemporary academe. Most faculty rely on their elected representatives to read all that stuff for them – and I promise, I’m reading it (and taking notes, and listening to what others say about it). This week, we are being introduced to a new Governance Manual, created at our District, which is supposed to outline the state-mandated procedures by which we govern ourselves. It’s called a Participatory Governance Manual and it outlines which committees have, by law, decision-making power, and which are advisory.

That’s a very, very important distinction. Advice is good, but decision making is very powerful. In anthropology, we’d say that advice falls on the less stringent end of the power continuum (along with speech, gossip, glances, etc).  Decision making that is under the law leads to sanctions and consequences for those who break the rules.

The job of the Academic Senate is to attend to the second area (the law). It is a lasting way of making people do things (and any anthropologist will tell you, that often starts in casual conversation or gossip). When it becomes rule, law, contract (all areas that can shade into each other), it has longterm impact.

Participatory governance is alive and well at Oxnard College, even though we are small in number. We saw this in our collective approach to accreditation. Students don’t much see what goes on behind the scenes (that’s one reason I’m blogging: students need to see more of what the “adult world” really consists).

Anyway, the President sent every email user on campus a copy of the new Board Governing Document on Friday, April 27.  I know for a fact that almost no one has read it (it’s like 40 pages long).  I read it, but it was a bit opaque, even to me, even after about 4-5 hours of working on it.  I therefore asked for help (from several people, Robert and Jenny were the ones who donated the time, but Peter and Riley also chipped in; I reread).  I have a few pages of notes.  Let me mention that I’m not getting paid for this (yet).  I don’t take office until June 15th, but when there’s transition, there’s no keeping time of one’s hours.  The document has its problems.  It’s actually pretty good.  It fails, in some ways, to make clear which groups are decision-making and which are advisory, but it can evolve into the document we need.  The document tries to make it clear that faculty have a say in what gets taught, and all the other issues involved in what California calls the 10+1 (this you can google if you’re really interested…and not actually asleep by this point).

For me, it’s been interesting to think about what’s “advice” and what’s “decision.”  If they can take away your job, or your paycheck or make you have to appear in a classroom at a particular time or teach a particular thing and tell you what that thing is, that you’ll be teaching – that’s not advice, that’s decision (and believe me, faculty are heard on these issues, sometimes having to fight hard to be heard).

Advice is just that.  Faculty have primacy, in California, in making certain kinds of decisions and in consulting with decision making.  Sometimes the administrators can really only advise us, they can’t just make their own decisions.  In a well publicized move, the Chancellor of CSUN did the right thing just today, I believe,  by coming out in favor of academic freedom in a very controversial area, and bless him for it.   I don’t know whether he’s permitting the Controversial Professor to keep his work up on the University website (I think so), but I’m proud that a fellow academic took the Academic point of view:  all voices heard within the Academy.

But, I’m keeping my blog on a private space, just in case.  You just never know.  Also, WordPress RULES when it comes to widgets and ease of use, as I intend to visit some other colleges and universities in the days and weeks before I take office, and  to continue my research on one of the most successful educational systems in the world (alas, it’s not in the U.S., and my place of employment recently banned giving support to any out-of-48 state research; so it’s self-funded).  But it is still important to know what works (and sometimes, the United States of America needs inspiration and advice from others).

I have enough pages from VCCCD to read, though, to keep me busy for the next few months, with or without meetings.  Minutes, agenda, process analysis, it’s all work.  It’s certainly not fun.  And it’s certainly going to take more than 100 hours during the summer – but hey, we old people, we got time on our hands.

And, just as an aside:  while there are places where the Chancellor’s Governing Document that need work, the overall intent of it is to make clear how our colleges work.  In California, Faculty have primacy in consultation about the list called 10 + 1.  In the near future, I’ll be blogging about 10 +1 and some my thoughts, and some of the controversies involved in applying the law.  I’ve been hanging out on forums, like the State Chancellor’s forums, and also, reading minutes at other community colleges, where available (it’s second nature to me to use the internet for field experiences), and it’s a good thing I find this stuff interesting, because I’m happiest when I love my job (and I love teaching; I won’t be in a real classroom for awhile…)

(All misuses of what some would say is “proper English” can refer themselves to the official study of…slang…)  Comment anyway – especially on spelling.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in District Level Documents

 

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