Conducting agency business in public can be complicated. It requires staff, administrators, and board members to strictly adhere to ever-changing laws, impacting meetings, communications, timelines, and use of technology. As general counsel, Lozano Smith attorneys join alongside publicly elected boards, and routinely advise on the most pressing governance issues, including:
- Brown Act
- Public Records Act
- Political Reform Act
- California Voting Rights Act
- Conflicts of interest
- Gifts and perks
- Ethics and board service
- E-Communication and open government
- Board/Administration: roles & responsibilities
Effective Governance Workshop
Recognizing the need for leaders to remain well-informed of critical issues while successfully conducting the public’s business, Lozano Smith created a cutting-edge workshop for board members and City Council members. This workshop walks through practical strategies for effective governance, including:
- Allowable closed session topics
- Maintaining confidentiality of closed session discussions
- Regular and special meetings of the board
- Board bylaws
- The Public's Role at Board Meetings
- Establishing Positive Relationships
- Regular and Special Meetings of the Board
- Board Member Conduct and Liability
- Effective Communication Between Board Members
- Tips for Effective Communication with the Public
We regularly advise clients on the open meeting requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act and routinely provide individualized trainings to address specific needs of our clients. We have also successfully defended Brown Act suits at the trial and appellate levels. For example, Duval v. Board of Trustees (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 902 established the principle that a legislative body may conduct comprehensive personnel evaluations in closed session, including a discussion of evaluation criteria and setting goals for future performance.
The firm also publishes annual handbooks and materials available at no cost for clients to use in understanding and complying with the Brown Act.
Public Records Act
We assist our clients in responding to Public Records Act requests from receipt of an initial demand through completion. Our attorneys and paralegals routinely deal with unique issues such as requests for salary or personnel information, electronic documents, documents related to closed-session meetings or pending litigation. All Lozano Smith attorneys are well versed in the Public Records Act and remain abreast of recent legislation and case law, understanding how each impacts our client’s obligations to maintain and disclose public records.
Conflicts of Interest
We frequently train and advise clients, including the elected board, regarding a wide range of conflicts of interest and ethics issues. Often, we counsel public agencies on: understanding public officials’ obligations to disclose their economic interests; identifying conflicts of interest; abstaining from participating in certain governmental decisions; and properly disclosing potential conflicts at public meetings.
Board Counsel and Support
Lozano Smith attorneys, as general counsel, guide and support public elected boards through creation and implementation of board policies, media relations, communication with the public, election issues, political activity, and conflict of interest issues, including the proper conduct of candidate and ballot measure elections. The firm’s attorneys advise on many election-related topics, including:
- Timing and conduct of elections, election contests and voter registration issues
- Trustee elections, including moving to by-trustee area elections
- Restrictions on use of agency equipment and media for political purposes
- Political activity on campus by board members, staff, and third parties
- Guidelines for mass mailings sent at public expense
- Lobbying and campaign finance regulation
September 2021Number 26On September 15, 2021, the Governor signed Assembly Bill (AB) 361, amending the Ralph M. Brown Act to allow local agencies to continue conducting public meetings remotely during a state of emergency, so long as certain requirements are met. As explained in more detail below, public agencies who wish to conduct meetings remotely on or after October 1, 2021, must make specific findings, every thirty days, and ensure conditions related to public participation are satisfied...
New Law Allows School and Community College Districts to Adopt Trustee Areas Without Holding an Election for Voter Approval
August 2021Number 19Effective on January 1, 2022, a county committee on school district organization will be able to approve a school district or community college district’s adoption of a by-trustee area election method, without calling an election to seek voter approval.BackgroundMany school districts and community college districts’ governing board members are elected at-large, meaning that each board member is elected by voters of the entire district. Districts that hold elect...
Supreme Court Sets Aside Student's Cheer Team Suspension, but Confirms Schools' Authority to Regulate Off-Campus Expression
July 2021Number 16In its first student free speech case since 2007, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a student whose off-campus and off-color social media (Snapchat) posts resulted in her suspension from the school’s junior varsity cheerleading team. The Supreme Court confirmed, however, that schools may still regulate student expression occurring off-campus on a case-by-case basis under the Tinker standard, albeit to a lesser degree...
July 2021Number 15On June 16, 2021, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Notice of Interpretation  explaining that discrimination “on the basis of sex” under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) encompasses both sexual orientation and gender identity. This interpretation clarifies how OCR will enforce Title IX moving forward, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia...
July 2021Number 14The 2021-2022 Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill (Trailer Bill) includes significant short-term and long-term changes to independent study. (See Ed. Code, § 51745, et seq.) For the 2021-2022 school year only, school districts and county offices of education (COE) will be required to offer an independent study program to meet the educational needs of pupils. Charter schools are not required to provide independent study, but charter schools that do offer independent st...
New Laws on Student Retention, Grades and Graduation Create More Pandemic-Related Consequences for Schools
July 2021Number 13On July 1, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law a three-part bill that creates new obligations for local educational agencies (LEAs) related to students served during the pandemic-impacted 2020-2021 school year. Assembly Bill (AB) 104 provides parents of “eligible pupils” a supplemental review process to consider retention at the 2020-2021 grade level. The bill also provides that high school students may request that a letter grade be changed to a Pass or No Pas...
June 2021Number 12On March 17, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order N-29-20. This order allowed local agencies to address emergent pandemic conditions by allowing local officials, and the public, to participate in public meetings via virtual platforms. Ordinarily, board attendance via teleconference is regulated by certain provisions of California’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act). With recent announcements anticipating the end of certain COVID-19 related restr...