Storey school board attorney defends against alleged open-meeting violation
Appeal Staff Writer
The Storey County School Board brought its attorney to a meeting last week after some residents charged the board with violating open-meeting laws.
Former school board member Cathylee James said the board violated open meeting laws by not properly noticing a Jan. 29 meeting and by meeting with attorney Bob Cox in Reno on Feb. 21, without giving public notice.
She said the only time a board may meet with an attorney without giving public notice was if it were facing a lawsuit.
Cox said they followed the law scrupulously.
“Before beginning the meeting I took the time to read the statute, and I indicated the things that could not be discussed,” he said.
The statute states that a board can meet with an attorney without giving public notice if pending or threatened litigation was discussed. Cox would not comment on any potential litigation, citing attorney-client privilege.
Board President Pam Smith said the meeting was to discuss possible litigation and also declined comment.
“It was a perfectly legal meeting and the attorney was very careful if we were wandering into areas not covered,” she said.
Cox also told the standing-room-only crowd of parents and staff that the school board could not respond to their questions during public comment sections, could not address any issue that is related to personnel and would not address concerns about the contract given to Storey County School Superintendent Rob Slaby.
“They can’t discuss anything until it is properly agendized,” Cox said.
Though NRS 241 only requires the board take no action, defining action as voting or making a promise or commitment, Cox said the Open Meeting Law guidelines distributed by the state Attorney General includes no discussion of an issue during public comment section.
“Otherwise you have a public body responding to an issue that hasn’t been agendized,” he said. “Others who are not at the meeting don’t have the opportunity to join the discussion.”
The guidelines say a board should not discuss an issue brought up by the public, but put it on a future agenda for discussion, Cox said, and that’s what the school board has done.
However, Nicole Moon, public information officer for the state Attorney General’s office, said the guidelines did not have the force of law; they were recommendations. She also said she didn’t believe discussion on subjects raised during public comment was prohibited.
“My understanding is you can discuss public comments, but you can’t take action,” she said.
Other issues, Cox said, can’t be discussed because they involve an individual, who has to be noticed in writing they will be the subject of a public discussion.
“The issues of character and competence should be discussed in closed meetings, but the law requires the superintendent’s evaluation be done in an open meeting,” Cox said.
Another legal issue brought up by parents is whether or not Slaby was a licensed administrator, and a check of the Nevada Department of Education showed he is licensed, but that superintendents didn’t need to be.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.