FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The City of Fresno is being sued by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) for allegedly holding secret budget negotiations in violation of the Brown Act, officials with the ACLU announced on Wednesday.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Fresno to comply with the Brown Act’s open meeting, notice, and public comment requirements.
Since at least 2018, officials with the FAC say the Fresno City Council has had a Budget Committee that negotiated the city’s annual budget behind closed doors, violating California’s law on open public meetings and depriving the people of their fundamental right to transparency in local government.
Officials say changes were made without any notice to, or input from, the public, such as more than 75 changes and amendments to the proposed budget – totaling almost $30 million during Fresno’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget process.
The First Amendment Coalition says the Budget Committee’s failure to meet in public, post an agenda, and provide the public with an opportunity to comment during the budget committee meetings violates the Brown Act.
“Transparency and public participation in public meetings, especially those involving decisions on Fresno’s record-breaking $1.87 billion budget, are crucial for a thriving democracy. That’s why we’re suing Fresno over its secret Budget Committee,” said Angélica Salceda, Director, of Democracy and Civic Engagement Program, ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
Before filing suit, ACLU and FAC say they sent Fresno a letter demanding the city to stop crafting its annual budget in secret. Instead of agreeing to stop violating the Brown Act, Fresno doubled down on its secret meetings, exposing the city to legal action.
“We’re disappointed that Fresno is choosing to keep its budget committee secret,” said David Loy, Legal Director, of First Amendment Coalition. “The law requires the city to make Budget Committee meetings open to the public so community members are empowered to engage in the democratic process and hold their representatives accountable.”
In a statement, representatives from the City of Fresno say they do not comment on pending litigation.
In a further statement, City of Fresno attorney Andrew Janz revealed that the complaint “was provided to media outlets prior to the City of Fresno being served” adding that it shows the lawsuit is “not about transparency but rather an attempt to impose a radical unworkable process.”