The city of Santa Barbara and Ampersand LLC have settled litigation filed by Ampersand alleging that the city violated the California open meetings law, commonly known as the Brown Act.

In the settlement, the city concedes that a violation of the Brown Act may have occurred at a meeting of the city’s Transportation and Circulation Committee held in November 2007. At the meeting, three TCC members briefly discussed a matter that was not listed on that month’s posted meeting agenda.

The settlement does not involve the payment of any damages or money to either side, and the city and Ampersand agree to be responsible for their own attorney fees and court costs.

City Attorney Steve Wiley indicated that it was clear that the TCC discussion was an inadvertent and innocent action by a group of citizen volunteers. However, the City Council decided to resolve the lawsuit because the discussion could be viewed by a judge as a technical violation of the Brown Act. This is true even though no decision was made by the TCC members as a result of their discussion. 

According to Wiley, the city strives to faithfully comply with all Brown Act meeting requirements. However, minor or technical violations sometimes unintentionally occur. He noted that the city has more than 30 various boards, committees and commissions made up of local citizens that advise the City Council and help frame policy on any number of local issues. 

Since the courts require strict compliance with the Brown Act, the City Council believed it was appropriate to settle this lawsuit by admitting a possible violation. Under these circumstances, it did not make good financial sense to expend the city staff and attorney resources necessary to resist this litigation.

Nina Johnson is an assistant to the Santa Barbara administrator.