By Nikki Iyer and Jillian Rousseau
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA – The ACLU recently criticized Huntington Beach’s children’s book review policy for its lack of government transparency.
According to the ACLU, the book review committee, or the “Review Board,” is not compliant with the Brown Act, which requires legislative bodies make meetings open to the public. Legislative bodies include city councils, according to Gov. Code § 54952(a)-(b).
“All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency,” according to Gov. Code § 54953.
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” according to the code.
The Review Board resolution, adopted Oct. 17, is designed to ensure children’s library content is appropriate for community standards, by simple majority voting of the board, the ACLU explained.
“The Resolution creates a ‘community parent/guardian review board’ comprising twenty-one (21) adult community members, with ‘each Council Member appointing three (3) (members) to review all proposed or new children’s books and other materials procured by the City Libraries or City Librarians that may contain sexual content before the books or materials are placed in the City Libraries or facilities,’” according to the ACLU, citing the resolution itself.
The Los Angeles Times reports, “there will not be an appeals process for any Review Board decision,” making the decision process seemingly resolute.
In addition, the Review Board’s meetings will be closed to the public.
“During the City Council’s discussion of the Resolution, Councilwoman Natalie Moser questioned Mayor Pro Tem Van Der Mark, the sponsor of the Resolution, about whether the review board would be subject to the Brown Act. As detailed in the Los Angeles Times story linked above, Mayor Pro Tem Van Der Mark responded no,” the ACLU wrote.
However, the ACLU argues under the Brown Act, the Review Board is required to make meetings open to the public. This includes posting an agenda in advance and allowing for public comments.
The ACLU said it is essential the public has the opportunity to understand and engage with the process by which books are provided in the library.
“As the Los Angeles Times reported, the Huntington Beach Library purchases 9,000 books a month for children and teens, and it is unclear by what process these books will be reviewed or decided on by the Review Board. It is imperative that the public has access to every Review Board meeting so that they may provide public comment and input on any decision the body makes,” according to the ACLU.
The ACLU recommends the Review Board adhere to the Brown Act, noting the alternative of potential legal action.
“Failure to ensure that the Review Board complies with the Brown Act would expose the City and Review Board to litigation and the risk of an attorney fee award. We hope the City will avoid unnecessary litigation and ensure that the Review Board’s meetings will comply with all requirements of the Brown Act,” the ACLU wrote in a statement.