Controversies mark regents, Board of Education primaries
August 26, 2004
Open meeting law concerns, residency flaps and ethics board inquiries figure in three nonpartisan Nevada primary contests for seats on the state Board of Education and the University and Community College System of Nevada Board of Regents.
Six contenders filed for a six-year term in the regents’ District 13 seat, and four filed for the panel’s District 11 seat. In each race, only two will advance to the November general election.
Three candidates seeking a four-year term in the state Board of Education District 9 race also will be narrowed to two by the Sept. 7 primary.
The attorney general’s office last month accused regents of a new open-meeting law violation, following a Clark County judge’s ruling that the board violated that law in demoting a community college president and its lobbyist. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled regents violated open-meeting laws in another case.
The recurring issue prompted lawmakers to recommend changes in the law to ensure more public accountability by the regents, and the 2005 Legislature will consider the proposals.
In the Southern Nevada-based District 13 regents race, incumbent Tom Kirkpatrick is being challenged by Mark DeStefano, Gloria Sturman, Jim Germain, James Dean and Matthew Berkus. All live in Las Vegas.
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Kirkpatrick, a retired University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor, has defended the need for closed meetings to discuss personnel issues. He said he wants to stay on the board to ensure state funds are spent conservatively.
Sturman, an attorney, said the open meeting law isn’t that hard to follow, and that in the eight years she spent on a local library board the panel had no open-meeting law violations. Sturman also wants the regents to stop what she calls the micromanagement of education.
DeStefano has promised to obey the open-meeting law. But the financial management consultant faces another problem – residency. Berkus, Leavitt and Germain filed a complaint last month alleging DeStefano lives outside district boundaries, although he has a cabin within the district.
Leavitt, an attorney, says he wants the regents’ integrity restored. He also wants the university system to graduate more nurses and help with economic diversification efforts.
Berkus, who teaches ethics as an adjunct professor at UNLV, has joined in the criticism of the way regents conduct their meetings. He also wants more distance education programs.
Germain, a part-time UNLV instructor whose father was a regent 40 years ago, wants to improve the standing of UNR and UNLV among universities in the West.
Three candidates – Bob Price, Rajan Zed and Sean Westwood – are challenging incumbent Doug Hill for the northern Nevada-based regents’ District 11 seat. All are from the Reno-Sparks area.
Hill, who was singled out for criticism in the 2003 Supreme Court open-meeting decision, says part of the problem is that the law is open to interpretation. He’s suggesting revisions so that it’s clear what regents can or can’t do during meetings.
Price, a former longtime state assemblyman, said he’s alarmed at the regents’ history of open-meeting law problems. One solution, Price says, might be to have the attorney general’s office represent the regents, rather than the private counsel they now employ.
Westwood, a University of Nevada, Reno student, and Zed, a U.S. Postal Service supervisor, also want an end to any illegal closed meetings. Westwood says infighting has kept the regents from doing their jobs.
Zed wants to make the panel members more accountable and accessible. He also wants to strengthen the state’s community colleges.
In the race for the state Board of Education’s District 9 seat, also based in Northern Nevada, incumbent Barbara Myers faces Stacie Wilke and former board member Dave Cook. All three live in Carson City.
Myers was recently cleared by the state Ethics Commission, which looked into a complaint that she and three other Board of Education members failed to disclose their employment, or their spouse’s employment, by a Nevada school district while making decisions that affected those agencies.
Myers, a speech pathologist in the Lyon County School District, also has joined other board members in backing ballot proposals that call for Nevada schools to be funded at or above the national average and to make education the Legislature’s top funding priority. She’s endorsed by the Nevada State Education Association.
Wilke, a former Carson City school board member and unsuccessful, education association-endorsed Assembly candidate in 2002, says that as a parent of two school-age children she’d be able to “give insight as a parent who has to live with all the policies” of the state board.
Wilke also said she’d push for changes in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which she said is “a good premise but it needs to work in the real world.”
Cook says the state Board of Education can do more to help local schools, charter and private schools, and parents who home-school their children. He also backs innovative approaches such as online distance education to reach at-risk students.