Reno City Council appeals judge’s open meeting ruling
RENO, Nev. (AP) – In a move that could affect local governments statewide, the Reno City Council has decided to appeal a judge’s ruling against it in a case involving the Nevada Open Meeting Law.
The council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to ask the Nevada Supreme Court to review Washoe District Judge James Hardesty’s Dec. 21 decision prohibiting it from meeting privately in small groups with city staff.
Relying on legal opinions from the state attorney general, council members regularly have met in private with staff to discuss issues. The meetings have usually been with two or three members to avoid a quorum.
The lone dissenter in Tuesday’s vote was Councilman Dave Rigdon, who said the ruling is clear and helps council members become better legislators.
But Mayor Jeff Griffin said he thinks Hardesty’s ruling is unclear and limits members’ ability to deal effectively with constituents.
”We have a glaring reason to appeal,” he said. ”There are two opposite district court decisions on cases where the facts are almost completely similar.
”And we also have opinions from the attorney general and the city attorney that we have not violated the open meeting law” by holding the private briefings.
The facts in the case resemble those in a Las Vegas case where a district court judge found no open meeting law violations with regard to staff briefings, he said.
Hardesty restrained the council from conducting further prearranged staff meetings with groups of two or more council members.
”I would like to know in black and white, a clarification of what we can and can not do with our constituents and our staff,” Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle said.
Hardesty’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed against the city by preservationists seeking to save the historic Mapes Hotel.
Hardesty agreed with portions of the suit accusing the council of violating the open meeting law by meeting in private to discuss plans to demolish the building.
But he concluded that violations of the law were ”completely and clearly cured” by a public hearing proceeding the council’s Sept. 13 vote to blow up the Mapes.
City legal counsel Lee Rosenthal urged the city to appeal Hardesty’s decision.
”The actual order to us seems overbroad,” he said. ”We believe the district court ruling at this point is incorrect.”