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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Editorial: Open meetings

In California one of our most prized democratic principles is keeping government proceedings open and transparent. A loophole in the law, however, means groups like the ASUCD Senate don’t have to obey the state’s open meeting rules.

Virtually every other government agency – city councils, county boards of supervisors, local school district boards of trustees, both houses of the state legislature, the UC Regents, etc. – is required by law to keep their meetings open and public by posting agendas in advance, accepting public comment and maintaining public records. Even community college student associations and California State University student governments must comply with these rules, yet student governments in the UC system aren’t covered.

There are no laws or legal precedents that require the meetings of student governments such as ASUCD, ASUC at UC Berkeley and ASUCLA at UCLA, for example, to be open. This means these groups, which collect fees from students and redistribute them to public programs, can meet secretly and hide their decision-making processes from the public they are supposed to be serving.

This became a real problem at UC Santa Barbara earlier this year, after student government officials used student money to fund an off-campus retreat. The property owner alleged that the villa they rented was left with thousands of dollars of damage. The UCSB Associated Students Legislative Council held a series of secret meetings to determine how to respond, leaving their constituents in the dark.

Situations like these are rare. At UC Davis student government officials have committed themselves to openness and transparency. Meetings are regularly held at the same time and location. Information is freely available for anyone who makes the trip up to the Student Government Administrative Office on the third floor of the Memorial Union. The ASUCD webmaster this year has posted more documents and up-to-date information online than ever before.

Nonetheless, it only makes sense to apply the rules to everyone. If the ASUCD Senate were subject to the same rules as every other decision-making government agency in California, they would be required to finalize and post their meeting agenda three days in advance of the actual meeting, something they don’t currently do. They would also be subject to strict rules on closed meetings and on what qualifies as an “emergency” or urgent piece of business. These changes would benefit everyone.

There are a number of ways this situation can be resolved. The legislature could pass a bill explicitly extending the open meeting regulations to UC student governments, or the state attorney general could issue an opinion saying that existing laws already apply to UC student governments. Whatever the avenue of action, this gaping loophole must be closed.

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