Ninety-six percent of Nevada elected officials at the local level of government agree with the Nevada Open Meeting Law, according to a recent survey.
The survey was designed and conducted by Carson City resident Dan Mooney to investigate the values and beliefs held by officials about the balance between free speech and the control of abusive political power. The law restricts officials from making decisions, promises or commitments in private.
Officials agree the law should control abusive and unethical political power while also assuring citizens the opportunity to participate in and media access to the political process, the study showed.
The law also restricts officials from deliberating behind closed doors to control unethical power. "Deliberation" is defined by the Nevada Attorney General's Office as "to examine, weigh, and reflect upon reasons for or against a choice."
Officials are somewhat split on this issue. Fifty-seven percent believe they should be authorized to "deliberate" while 47 percent believe they should not have that authority.
Seventy-three percent of those surveyed believe there should be a balance between the controls on their free speech and the need to protect the public from abusive political power. However a large majority (69 percent) also think interpretation of the law is too restrictive and should be changed.
When asked if a way should be found to legally authorize public officials to meet in private under certain situations while preserving citizen and the media's right to know, almost 81 percent agreed that a way should be found to do this. Officials believe that they should have the authority to hold private meetings to discuss candidates for jobs (81 percent), resolve internal board conflicts (78 percent) and exchange and discuss facts preliminary to a choice (58 percent).
On the down side, officials believe the law reduces the efficiency with which decisions are made while only 50 percent believe the law helps improve decision quality. On the other hand, almost 50 percent believe either that the law has no effect on decision quality or that quality is decreased.
Seventy-seven percent of the officials included narrative comments along with their responses to the questions. Among these comments was overwhelming support for the law as written. However, significant findings from among the comments are that officials believe legal interpretations of the law are too restrictive, but not the law itself.
The study included personal interviews with a survey of 300 Nevada elected officials at the local level including all county commissioners, school board and city council members and the Nevada University Board of Regents. Forty-two percent of the questionnaires were completed and returned.