The Monterey Park City Council is considering crafting a policy to regulate the use of electronic communications, such as text messages, email and the Internet during council meetings.
The policy would describe what forms of communication are appropriate, as well as what information should be made available in accordance with public disclosure requirements.
Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian raised the issue during the July 3 council meeting. She said she decided to bring the matter to the council after reading about the issue and its relation to the Brown Act, California legislation that guarantees that meetings held by legislative bodies are open to the public. It also requires that actions by those bodies must not be done in secret.
Many of the technologies available today to communicate were not around when the Brown the Act was passed in 1953, the mayor noted. She asked the council to consider developing a policy defining how electronics devises, such as cell phones and computers can be used during council meetings, especially when it pertains to agenda items.
“After all, as elected members we are engaging in a public meeting and it must be open,” she said, insinuating that electronic devices might be used to convey information and messages without the public knowing during what are supposed to be public meetings.
Real Sebastian said residents have alleged that council members secretly communicate with members of the public during meetings via text messages, a violation of the Brown Act.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, we need to address it as soon as possible,” she said.
Some council members expressed concern over what the policy would look like and what would fall under the category of communications that should be subject to public disclosure. They noted they sometimes use their electronic devises to do research on topics discussed at the meetings.
Councilman Mitchell Ing suggested the council members should simply turn of their cell phones as a solution to the dilemma, but Councilman Hans Liang, agreeing with the mayor, said communications with family members, especially those involving emergencies, should be exempt in any policy adopted.
The city has to find a “balance,” said Councilman Peter Chan. In many cases the technology is being used to help the council obtain information, he said. But “If we’re talking about an agenda item, the city council needs to go public regardless of the form of communication,” he said.
Liang said that the policy should also address how it will be enforced. He said he’s not oppose to adopting a policy, but added that it is up to the individual to respect the code of conduct.
“It really falls on the duty of the members that are here to adhere to the guidelines that are already delineated in the Brown Act,” Liang said, inferring that council members are aware what communications are, and are not proper.
The mayor told EGP that city staff is expected to present wording for a possible policy in the near future.
“When the Brown Act was adopted we didn’t have texting, emails or tweeting,” Real Sebastian told EGP “Its better to be proactive and address it in a policy.”