Supervisor’s e-mail raises questions
An e-mail sent by a Carson City supervisor to other board members has raised questions about whether the electronic communication violated Nevada’s open-meeting law.
Supervisor Robin Williamson distributed a letter to supervisors June 11, spelling out options she would support to pay for improvements to the Blue Line Trail if the project failed to get federal funds. The issue had become contentious and she might instead consider phasing in repairs using Redevelopment Authority money, she wrote in the e-mail.
“This is just a suggestion and I look forward to hearing your opinions,” Williamson wrote.
Williamson received two responses before the issue was publicly discussed and decided July 1.
Kent Lauer, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the open-meeting law contains a specific provision banning the use of electronic communication to circumvent the spirit or letter of the law.
“That provision would cover an e-mail message sent by a board member to other members about an agenda item,” Lauer said. “If a board member wants to discuss public business with the rest of the board, or a majority of the board, it must be done at an open meeting where the public has the opportunity to listen in.”
The law mandates decisions and actions of public agencies be made openly and defines how the public should be advised of meetings. The law specifically states electronic communication can’t be used to discuss or act on a matter over which the board has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory powers.
Mayor Ray Masayko, an advocate of open government, said he received the e-mail but didn’t respond to it.
“I had concerns about it,” Masayko said. “It appeared to me it could be construed as polling the board.”
Williamson said she received a return note from Supervisor Richard Staub saying it sounded interesting and he would research it, and Supervisor Pete Livermore mentioned he saw the e-mail.
Williamson said she didn’t deliberate or discuss it further with anyone, and that she only intended to bring attention to the issue so board members could look into other projects for consideration. She said it was not sent to manipulate votes or get a consensus.
“There was no intent on my part to reach any decision,” Williamson said. “It was kind of a heads-up.”
When similar e-mails are sent, City Manager Linda Ritter said, she makes sure board members know not to respond. Ritter and Williamson said it is not a regular practice.
“They can give each other information,” Ritter said. “They can’t deliberate. They can’t respond.”
Masayko said he doesn’t discuss board issues before public meetings through e-mail with supervisors.
“It doesn’t happen as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I can’t control other people’s behavior. I can only control mine.”
The process to decide what projects to fund with Community Development Block Grant funds concerned some board members who said they had questions about how projects were selected.
Masayko said he first found out about city staff’s decisions for spending the $536,000 after reading articles in the newspaper. At Thursday’s meeting, supervisors requested city staff include them in the process in the future.
“I was not pleased with the results or the priorities decided,” Masayko said. “I told the city manager that I was not going to support any of this Blue Line or downtown (wireless network) and I urged her to look at alternatives when this came before the board.”
The state Attorney General’s Office this year has received nearly twice as many complaints as it did last year about possible violations of Nevada’s open-meeting law, one of the top officials from that office told the Associated Press.
Thirty-seven complaints questioning whether the law is being followed have been filed with the Attorney General’s Office so far this year, on pace to reach a total of about 90 by the end of the year, Keith Marcher, senior deputy attorney general, said. The total number of open-record law complaints for all of last year was 49, he said.
There are also a half-dozen bill draft requests being prepared for the 2005 Legislature designed to strengthen the open-meeting law.
Contact Jill Lufrano at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.