The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission on Wednesday spent nearly all of its monthly meeting behind closed doors, continuing a pattern of secrecy that critics say runs afoul of laws requiring government transparency.

The commission's agenda suggested that its main business was the panel's ongoing efforts to surrender control of the taxpayer-owned stadium to USC. Part of the commission's 2 1/2 hours in closed session was devoted to the USC deal, according to a source familiar with the discussion. The panel's open session lasted 12 minutes.

Racked by a yearlong financial scandal, the commission is so broke that it cannot pay for Coliseum upgrades it promised in a lease with USC, whose football team plays at the 88-year-old stadium. The agency instead is preparing to allow USC to take over and refurbish the property under a new lease.

Made up of representatives of the city, county and state, the commission has come under fire for conducting no open deliberations on the USC proposal, which would transfer stewardship of a public institution to a private one.

In a statement to the commission Wednesday, Assistant County Counsel Thomas J. Faughnan, the panel's attorney, said the state's open-meeting law permits private deliberations to protect the negotiation positions of government agencies.

But Terry Francke, an authority on the law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, said it allows public bodies to secretly deliberate only certain monetary matters, such as price and payment terms.

The draft USC lease contains many other issues, including the awarding of naming rights to the Coliseum and management of the companion Sports Arena.

Francke, an attorney for Californians Aware, a group that promotes openness in government, said the commission's actions appear to conflict with a December opinion by state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris' office limiting material that can be kept confidential under the Brown Act.

In his statement, Faughnan said the commission would give the public time to review and comment on the draft lease before the panel takes a final vote on it.

ron.lin@latimes.com