The COVID pandemic in 2020 resulted in the governor and Legislature making changes to the Brown Act to allow a body of elected officials to conduct meetings while not being physically present at one location.
But with February bringing an expected declaration to the end of the public health emergency, members will be returning to the original constraints of the Brown Act.
The Ceres City Council plans to continue conducting meetings to allow public participation via Zoom but council and Planning Commission members must be present – or at least have a valid reason for participating remotely, City Attorney Nubia Goldstein told the body last week.
The Brown Act requires that a council must meet in-person with a quorum, or in the case of the five-member Ceres council at least three attending. Original teleconferencing rules will return, requiring that any member who participates remotely must make their location available to the public, whether at their home, and post an agenda at that location. Goldstein said the rules present challenges for any member wanting to join in by Zoom.
Complicating matters is AB 2449, a new California law which gives some flexibility to a council person to participate in a meeting remotely on a limited basis.
If a council member is allowed to attend remotely, the public also must have the ability to attend remotely. Goldstein said that isn’t an issue for Ceres since the city is upgrading the technology in the council chambers to continue offering meetings via Zoom into the future.
She explained that the council member who is attending remotely must show “just cause” or provide for an emergency circumstance.
“An excuse of ‘I’m running late,’ ‘I decided I just didn’t want to go,’ unfortunately will not meet the requirements,” said Goldstein.
Just cause can include issues with a lack of child care or caregiving need, contagious diseases or traveling on official business.
Participation of a physically absent council member must include audio and video.
“The public needs to be able to see and hear you so you can’t hide behind the camera or just turn the camera off,” she added.
Further complications are that if a member wants to participate remotely due to an emergency, the attending in-person quorum must vote on whether or not they are allowed to do so.
City staff will have to track absences in the future since a member is limited in the number of remote meetings in a calendar year.
If a member is on vacation they can still attend remotely but must post an agenda at their location and allow public attendance or they can just be excused.