Journalist whose work led to the Brown Act dies

Editor’s note: Michael Harris was a former colleague at The Chronicle. I was one of the youngest reporters on the staff in the mid-’80s and people like Michael would take me to lunch. We’d chat in the newsroom about our stories. A real class act.

“Michael A. Harris, a former Sausalito official whose work as a San Francisco Chronicle reporter inspired the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s anti-secrecy law, died Thursday in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 92,” as the Marin I-J is reporting.

“‘Your Secret Government,’ Mr. Harris’ celebrated 10-part series for the Chronicle in 1952, prompted Jack Craemer, late editor of the Independent Journal, to work with Modesto Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown on legislation enacted in 1953 ensuring meetings of public agencies were held in public.

“‘Michael Harris was the godfather of the Brown Act,’ said Terry Francke, founder of Californians Aware, an open government organization, and former general counsel of the California First Amendment Coalition. ‘Anyone who has ever been helped by (public) access to meetings owes a debt of gratitude to Michael,” he said. ‘He deserves a tip of the hat.’

“In 1965, Harris broke a story about assessment scandals in which officials lowered assessed valuations used to calculate taxes. He traveled the world for the Chronicle to study transit systems, returning to write stories probing plans for Bay Area Rapid Transit.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

3 thoughts on “Journalist whose work led to the Brown Act dies”

  1. Nice little history lesson. The Brown Act is very important and unfortunately is violated too much. I indeed will tip my hat and my glass to Mr. Michael Harris.

  2. The Brown Act is a mixed blessing. Among the serious downsides are 1) its dampening effect on internal communication within local community/advisory bodies and 2) guess who is exempt (The Legislature. And administrators at all levels, who essentially run government and are free to communicate with whomever, whenever, and under what circumstances they please).

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