Alternate members of a Local Agency Formation Commission, when not serving in the place of regular members, may participate in public hearings and deliberations, but they may not attend closed sessions, according to a state Attorney General's opinion. The opinion should lead to a standardization of practices for the 57 LAFCOs in California, said Mike Gotch, executive director of the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions. In fact, Gotch was the one who raised the issue of participation by LAFCO alternates. Gotch — a former Assemblyman and San Diego LAFCO executive officer — is the alternate public member of the Napa County LAFCO. The Napa County Counsel's office had said alternate members, when not replacing absent regular members, should not participate in public hearings or attend closed sessions. County counsel later modified its stance to allow alternates to participate until the close of the public hearing. Gotch said other jurisdictions where he had worked encouraged alternate members to be at all meetings, whether or not the regular member was present. But, he said, "In my CalLAFCO travels, I've found that there is no consistency." The code is silent on the issue, he said. The attorney general's opinion, No. 98-1011, interprets the Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act of 1985 (Government Code §§56000-57550), which establishes LAFCOs to encourage orderly growth and development. The attorney general ruled that "A LAFCO, under its statutory rule-making powers and inherent parliamentary powers, has the authority to adopt rules permitting participation of alternate members at public hearings as well as in deliberations on proposals, short of voting." The opinion prepared by Deputy Attorney General Clayton Roche continues, "Undoubtedly, it would be beneficial for alternate members to be present at all the hearings of a LAFCO since proposals are commonly considered at more than one meeting. Attendance by all alternate members would allow them to be fully informed if they must replace the regular members who are absent or disqualified. Moreover, to permit alternate members to participate in the hearings and deliberations to the same extent as regular members (except voting) would enhance a fuller discussion and consideration of each proposal. In short, LAFCOs and the public would benefit by having alternate members present at all public hearings and participate in the deliberations." Closed sessions, which may be conducted to discuss certain personnel matters and litigation, are a different story, according to the AG's opinion. "Unless sitting in place of an absent or disqualified member, an alternate may not attend a closed session without converting the session into an unauthorized ‘semi-closed meeting.' A LAFCO may not enact parliamentary rules that contravene statutory law, in this case, the Ralph M. Brown Act," the opinion says. In quoting the AG's 1994 handbook on the Brown Act (Government Code §§54950-54962), the opinion states, "Persons without an official role in the meeting should not be present." Napa County Counsel Robert Westmeyer requested the opinion, which is found at 99 C.D.O.S. 1734.