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Keep an eye on university regents

Nevada Appeal editorial board

Nevada residents have at least three good reasons to keep a close eye on the University and College System Board of Regents and its reaction to a lawsuit claiming members violated state open-meetings laws.

First is the open-meetings law itself. The regents appear to have violated both the letter and the spirit of the law when they met for 17 hours in two November sessions to, among other things, demote Community College of Southern Nevada President Ron Remington and lobbyist John Cummings.

Among the regents who have tried to defend the meetings and their actions, the main argument has been that they relied on the advice of the board’s attorney in believing they were justified in shutting out the public.

Obviously, there was some question as to whether the meeting should be closed. Because the spirit of the law – and of an informed democracy – calls for public business to be conducted in public, the regents should have leaned toward openness. Instead, many apparently felt more comfortable operating in secret.

Having shut the doors, they then ranged far afield of the kind of matters the law recognizes as being permissible to discuss in private. The regents showed a casual disregard for the specifics of the open-meetings law.

For the public, the second major issue is the responsibility of this board to oversee one of the largest and fastest-growing budgets in the state – $1.2 billion over the two-year cycle, a 24 percent increase.

So badly botched was the handling of the investigation of Remington and Cummings, who never got a chance to answer their critics or the allegations against them, we have no confidence the majority of regents are capable of overseeing the university and college system.

That leads us to the third reason. Regents are elected, and five of the seats will be open this fall. The races seldom draw the scrutiny of other state offices, but perhaps this time voters will sit up and take notice.

Attorney General Brian Sandoval, by taking the regents to task for open-meetings violations, has given them the opportunity to rescind their actions from the November meetings

. Will they learn from their mistakes, or will they compound their errors by fighting Sandoval in court?