This guest post was authored by Connie Almond
This legislative season various “post-Bell” laws were proposed to prevent excessive compensation for public officials and to foster greater transparency in local governance. One bill which was adopted, AB 1344, made significant changes in both respects.
AB 1344 prohibits an employment contract between a local agency and a chief executive officer or a department head of a local agency – “local agency executive” – from providing an automatic contract renewal that includes an automatic compensation increase greater than a cost of living adjustment.
Another part of AB 1344 deals with severance benefits. Existing law requires employment contracts between employees and local agencies to include a provision that, if the contract is terminated, the maximum cash settlement an employee may receive is the monthly salary of the employee multiplied by the number of months left on the unexpired term of the contract, with a maximum of 18 months. AB 1344 prohibits any employment contract with a local agency executive from providing a cash settlement greater than this.
AB 1344 also requires an officer or employee of a local agency who is convicted of a crime involving abuse of office or position to reimburse the local agency fully for specified payments made by that local agency to the officer or employee.
Finally, AB 1344 changes the Brown Act to mandate that local agencies post the agendas of their legislative bodies on the agency’s website. The bill also prohibits any legislative body from holding a special meeting regarding the salary, salary schedule, or other form of compensation for any local agency executive.
AB 1344 applies to all local agencies, including charter counties, charter cities, and charter cities and counties.
Although AB 1344 is focused on preventing excessive compensation for executives, the revision to the Brown Act requires that all agendas be posted on the agency’s website at least 72 hours before the meeting, regardless of whether any compensation issues are going to be discussed at the meeting. This new requirement may be burdensome for agencies that already struggle to post their agendas in a timely manner. Although this amendment is not particularly surprising in light of the technological age, getting accustomed to this new requirement may take some time, particularly for smaller agencies. Before AB 1344 goes into effect on January 1, 2012, local agencies should assess their technological capabilities and plan on allotting extra time to post their agendas to avoid a Brown Act violation.
AB 1344’s provisions regarding employment contracts with local agency executives only applies to contracts executed or renewed after January 1, 2012, and not to existing contracts. Nevertheless, local agencies should be prepared for careful review and, in some cases, contract revisions, for department heads and the chief executive officer which provide for automatic compensation increases greater than a cost of living adjustment. AB 1344 does not bar executives from receiving larger salary increases. The employment contract simply cannot automatically renew if there is an automatic compensation increase greater than a cost of living adjustment.
How much more time do you think it will take your agency to post agendas with this new requirement? Does your agency already post agendas online? Let us know your thoughts.