Assembly Bill 1344 (“AB 1344”), signed by the Governor on October 9, 2011, made several changes to laws involving local governance. The bill was introduced in response to the City of Bell controversy. The provisions of AB 1344 went into effect on January 1, 2012.
AB 1344 makes changes to the Elections Code and the Government Code concerning city charter elections, employment contracts for local agency executives, new notice requirements for open meetings, and penalties for misuse of public office. The law impacts principal entities and K-12 education agencies. The Legislature declared that the provisions of AB 1344 are matters of statewide concern and provided for reimbursement of costs, if necessary.
Prior to the passage of AB 1344, a charter commission was required to submit a city charter to voters at a special election, an established municipal election date, or any other established election date as long as there were at least 88 days before the election to vote on the charter. Also, the governing body of a city or a city and county was authorized to propose a charter and submit the proposal to the voters at a special election, an established municipal election, or any other established election date as long as it was proposed at least 88 days before the election on the charter.
AB 1344 requires that a city charter or amendment, whether submitted by a governing body or charter commission, “shall be submitted to the voters at an established statewide general, statewide primary, or regularly scheduled municipal election date” provided there are at least 95 days before the election on the charter or amendment. It further requires that a proposal to adopt a charter must include in the ballot a description of the new city powers that will go into effect if the charter is adopted. The description must include whether the city council will have the power under the charter “to raise its own compensation and the compensation of other city officials without voter approval.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act
The Ralph M. Brown Act governs open meetings for local governmental bodies. AB 1344 amends portions of this Act. AB 1344 mandates that a legislative body or its presiding officer must provide notice of all meetings, including special meetings, on the local agency’s web site, if the agency has a website. Additionally, the new law prohibits a legislative body from calling a special meeting about a local agency executive’s salary, salary schedule, or fringe benefits. This provision, however, does not apply to prohibit a local agency from scheduling a special meeting to discuss the agency’s budget.
Local Agency Employment Contracts
Additionally, AB 1344 provides that on or after January 1, 2012, an employment contract for a local agency executive may not provide for an automatic renewal of the contract if the employment contract provides (1) for an automatic increase in compensation in an amount above a cost-of-living adjustment, or (2) for a cash settlement that exceeds a maximum set by statute.
A “local agency” is defined as “a county, city, whether general law or chartered, city and county, town, school district, municipal corporation, district, political subdivision, or any board, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency.” A “local agency executive” is defined as any person who is employed by a local agency but who is not subject to the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act for cities and counties, or non-classified, non-represented contract officers for K-12 education.
Misuse of Public Office
AB 1344 requires that any contract entered into or renewed between a public agency and its officers or employees must include a provision that if the officer or employee is convicted of a crime that involves abuse of his or her position or office, he or she must fully reimburse the agency for specified funds. It further provides that even in the absence of a contractual obligation for reimbursement, an employee or officer of a local agency who is convicted of a crime involving abuse of his or her office, must reimburse the local agency for specified payments made to the officer or employee by the local agency.