Friday, February 5, 2016 The CSAC Bulletin
Employee Relations and Administrative Services
For more information, please contact Faith Conley at 916.650.8117, or Betsy Hammer at 916.650.8108.

Recent Opinion Provides Clarity in the Case of Peace Officers Under Investigation

A recent Court of Appeal decision provides guidance on when peace officers must be notified of potential action against themselves prior to interrogation. Current law in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (Government Code Sections 3300-3313) lays out the requirements that must be followed “when any public safety officer is under investigation and subjected to interrogation by his or her commanding officer, or any other member of the employing public safety department, that could lead to punitive action.” One requirement is that “the public safety officer under investigation shall be informed of the nature of the investigation prior to any interrogation.”

In the recent case, Ellins v. City of Sierra Madre, the Court interpreted what “prior notice” really means and what public agencies are required to provide peace officers. The case involves a police officer who used a confidential database to look up a former romantic interest, without any work-related need to do so. He then refused to participate in the subsequent interrogation, and was ultimately terminated. The Court states that the code “requires an officer to be informed of the nature of the investigation ‘reasonably prior to’ the interrogation – that is, with enough time for the officer to meaningfully consult with any representative he elects to have present.” However, the Court’s opinion also includes this important piece of information: “an employing department with reason to believe that providing this information might risk the safety of interested parties or the integrity of evidence in the officer’s control may delay the notice until the time scheduled for interrogation as long as it thereafter grants sufficient time for consultation.” This ruling confirms that public agencies have authority and responsibility to protect public safety and not compromise an investigation, while still respecting employees’ rights.

Attorney General Issues Opinion on Brown Act Requirements in the Face of Technical Difficulties

Attorney General Kamala Harris recently issued an opinion on the question of whether or not the Brown Act would be violated if a local agency is unable to post a meeting agenda online within the required timeline in the case of technical difficulties, such as a power failure, cyber-attack, or other third-party interference.

The conclusion is good news for counties that may have experienced technical issues: it is not necessarily a violation of the Brown Act if the agency has otherwise substantially complied, and the meeting may go on. In the official words, the opinion holds that “if technical difficulties prevent a local agency’s legislative body from posting a regular meeting agenda on the local agency’s website for a continuous 72-hour period before the scheduled regular meeting, but the legislative body has otherwise substantially complied with the Brown Act’s agenda-posting requirements, the legislative body may lawfully hold its regular meeting as scheduled.”

Legislative Analyst’s Office Issues Series on CalSTRS Funding Plan

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published an online series to analyze a 2014 plan to fund teacher pensions. Pensions are an ongoing concern for solvency and unfunded liabilities, but in 2014 the Governor and Legislature came to an agreement regarding the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). AB 1469 (2014, Bonta) increased contributions and attempted to set the program on track for sustainability. The CalSTRS website has additional details about the plan available here.

While CalSTRS covers teachers, there are some potential lessons learned that could be applied to other retirement systems. For example, problems with complexity and clarity in legislative intent present problems in the LAO’s opinion. Stakeholders interested in pension issues may wish to explore this series for its potential parallels to other pension challenges and opportunities.