Storey school board cleared of open meeting law violations
Appeal Staff Writer
The Nevada Attorney General’s Office has declined to take action on seven complaints about alleged violations of the open meeting law by the Storey County School Board of Trustees, though its investigator did criticize some of the board’s actions.
George Taylor, senior deputy attorney general for open meeting laws, said no actionable violations of the open meeting laws took place during meetings on Feb. 22, 2007, and March 22, 2007. Several complaints filed over the January meetings were not considered because they were filed too late.
But Taylor also stated that the board was not specific enough in listing items to be addressed on its agendas, and was incorrect in its assertion that it could not respond to residents during public comment sections.
The complaints filed against the school board were signed by about 12 Storey County residents regarding board actions at its January, February and March meetings.
The complaint about the March 22, 2007, meeting stated that the board violated the open meeting law by providing generic rather than specific agenda items, disallowing public comment during the evaluation of Superintendent Rob Slaby, and the absence of a list of goals for the superintendent.
Taylor found that no violation occurred, however he did rebuke the board for generic agenda items.
During that meeting, School Board President Pam Smith announced there would be no public comment allowed during the evaluation.
Despite that pronouncement, several members of the public spoke up without interruption, rendering her pronouncement moot.
Taylor said if the board did not intend to accept public comment during the evaluation, the agenda should have stated that limitation.
He also found no violation regarding the absence of a list of goals for Slaby because no documents on goals were available.
On complaints filed over actions at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting, Taylor again did not find actionable violations, though he again criticized the lack of specific agenda items.
Taylor said a meeting between the board and counsel Don Cox that occurred on Feb. 21 that was private and not agendized was allowable under Nevada law, since the board president and the counsel stated that the issues discussed involved potential or actual litigation.
Cox attended the Feb. 22 meeting to address the legal issues with the public. His appearance was on the agenda for that meeting, but the topics of discussion were not.
During this item, Cox discussed five issues which Taylor said should have been listed on the agenda.
Another complaint regarding the Feb. 22 meeting was an item entitled “Superintendent’s Report,” under which Slaby discussed several prepared issues. Taylor found that this was too generic a term and the prepared issues should have been listed.
He sent a letter to Slaby outlining his concerns and attached an agenda from the Carson City School District Board of Trustees as an example of how an agenda should be done.
Taylor also contradicted an assertion by Cox and board members at the Feb. 22 meeting that the board could not legally respond during public comment period. He said a review of the statute’s legislative history indicates that the Legislature intended to encourage public bodies to engage in discussion with members of the public.
He also said that a board could decline to engage the public during public comment, but was not forbidden to do so.
He also said the board policy of giving the president discretion to limit public comments was not supported by the open meeting law.
Taylor wrote a policy of giving the board president authority to limit individual speakers at each meeting is not a reasonable rule. He said public bodies must announce limitations on the agenda and the limitation must apply equally to all members of the public.
Cathylee James, a former board member who submitted the complaints, said she didn’t take action to embarrass or annoy the board, but to get them to abide by state law.
“I appreciate the effort made at the Attorney General’s office on behalf of our school board,” she said. “I’m confident the matters brought to their attention by Mr. Taylor will be addressed. In this way we can all move forward in a better fashion.”
Slaby was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-7351.