Beginning in January, the Orange County Transportation Authority will inform members of the public that they do not have to provide identifying information when speaking at OCTA board meetings.
The rule change is in response to a Voice of OC post this week that brought to light the OCTA’s policy of requiring speakers to fill out speaker cards that ask for their name, address and phone number.
Such requirements violate the Brown Act, California’s open-meetings law, said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open government consultant.
The new OCTA policy calls for inserting a sentence in the speaker’s card stating that those who want to address the transportation board aren’t required to give their name, address or phone number.
However, the change should not be read as an admission by the agency that the current policy violates the Brown Act, said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik.
“Even without this [new language], we are in compliance with the Brown Act,” Zlotnik said, adding that Ken Smart, the OCTA’s legal counsel also believes “we’re in full compliance with the Brown Act.”
Francke, meanwhile, says the new policy doesn’t go far enough.
Currently, the first sentence on the speaker’s card says “please fill in the bottom portion of this card and submit to the Clerk of the Board.” Under the new policy the next sentence will read: “Completing this card is not required for you to speak during the meeting. Notify the Clerk if you prefer not to provide personal information.”
The sentence after that, which is on the card now and will stay there, says “when your name is called upon, by the Chairman, please come forward, state your name, city of residence or agency you are representing, and present your comments.”
Francke said the new policy is confusing because it doesn’t make it clear right from the beginning that speakers don’t need to identify themselves either when they are filling out the card or when they get up to speak.
“The very first sentence,” he said, should “clarify that it is voluntary. Otherwise you are sending conflicting signals: ‘Please fill out this form — oh, by the way, you don’t have to fill out this form.'”
And, he said, OCTA should make it clear that people also don’t have to identify themselves when they are speaking.
“Both of those things need to be cleaned up,” Francke said, “and they need to be cleaned up right at the top.”
— TRACY WOOD