In today’s ever-changing municipal landscape, there are many challenges that can arise for city clerks and board secretaries. Whether a new or tenured official, it’s important to stay ahead of the game on numerous key issues and updates while still balancing the daily demands of the job. Below are some of the foundational topics that public officials need to understand and navigate.
California Public Records Act Compliance
The California Public Records Act (CPRA) can be daunting to decipher, especially with recent updates about electronic records and retention. The CPRA is “intended to cover every conceivable kind of record and will pertain to any new form of recordkeeping instrument as it is developed.” This includes emphasis on electronic records and email—anything typed, texted, handwritten, printed, photographed, photocopied, electronically transmitted, disseminated on social media or using any other form of recordkeeping relating to the public’s business is considered a public record. The content of a document, not its format, determines whether it is a public record subject to disclosure.
Insider tip: When in doubt, assume it is a public record. This includes your social media posts!
Social Media Land Mines
Social media has become the “modern public square” for gathering and exchanging viewpoints. It can be a valuable tool for public officials to interact with constituents, but agencies must remain vigilant about how they communicate online with the community and one another, particularly in light of a recent update to the Brown Act.
AB 992 prohibits communications via social media so a majority of members of an elected or appointed body may not use an internet-based social media platform to discuss agency business. A member may also not respond directly to any communication posted or shared by another member of the same body regarding agency business on an internet-based social media platform.
Officials must adhere to the Brown Act and develop and maintain stringent guidelines about social media conduct. A concrete social media policy is recommended for all institutions, given the many land mines that exist in the social media stratosphere and particularly for public officials.
Insider tip: Symbols and emojis, including a simple thumbs up, are sometimes prohibited under AB 992.
Campaign Reporting in Non-Election Years
Campaign finance reporting is an annual process, even during non-election years. City clerks and board secretaries should be familiar with the latest Fair Political Practices Commission requirements, including:
- Form 470: Any candidate or officeholder not raising or spending $2,000 in a calendar year must file a Form 470 by July 31 of each year in office, or after a Form 501 is filed and before the designated election.
- Independent Expenditures
- Form 492: A candidate who spends $5,000 to support or oppose a ballot measure or its qualification must file a Form 492 with a local filing official where the measure will be on the ballot.
- Form 462: This form must be filed within 10 days after the first $1,000 independent expenditure to support or oppose a candidate in a single year.
- Form 461: Major Donor Committees must file this form and include an individual or organization that donates $10,000 or more in a calendar year. This can include a city, county or state and is subject to the $1,000 independent expenditure requirements if filed within 90 days of an election.
Insider tip: Elected officials without an open campaign finance committee must file a Form 470 every year they are in office, even if not running an active campaign.
To help officials remain informed and proactive, Best Best & Krieger LLP created a City Clerk & Board Secretary Boot Camp that covers many trending topics in compliance, elections, local legislation and more. Learn more about this boot camp here.
HongDao Nguyen is a partner in the Municipal Law practice group at Best Best & Krieger LLP. She also serves as city attorney to the cities of Artesia and Stanton, and assistant city attorney to the cities of Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest and Signal Hill. Contact HongDao at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Best & Krieger LLP Director of Election Services Stephanie Smith helps cities navigate the myriad of ever-changing election laws and supports public agencies with California Public Records Act compliance. Before joining BB&K, Stephanie served as city clerk for the cities of Murrieta and Lake Forest. Accredited as a Master Municipal Clerk by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, Stephanie has more than three decades of experience in municipal government. Contact Stephanie at email@example.com.