Keep those discussions out in the open
E-mail is an easy and convenient way to communicate, which is exactly why Nevada lawmakers specifically included it in open-meeting regulations so that elected officials wouldn’t hold private discussions about public issues.
Carson City Supervisor Robin Williamson last month sent an e-mail to other members of the board about use of grant money for some city projects, such as disabled accessibility on the Blue Line Trail.
The issue, as she put it, had become “contentious and misunderstood,” so she was looking for some other ideas. She concluded by writing, “I look forward to hearing your opinions.”
So did we – in an open meeting. And that’s where the issue was discussed. In fact, it was during a recent open meeting that Williamson mentioned the e-mail, which caught the attention of a Nevada Appeal reporter.
Under Nevada’s open-meetings law, an e-mail exchange among members of an elected board is no different than a secret meeting or conference call. The public’s business must be done in public.
Williamson said she never intended to have deliberations or discussions via e-mail, but only wanted to give fellow supervisors a heads-up on the matter. We have no reason to think e-mail exchanges on public issues are a common practice among the supervisors.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a stern reminder to them – and to all elected officials – that they must not venture down the slippery slope of seeking opinions or building consensus outside of public meetings.
That’s how residents get the idea they have no say in the decisions of their leaders, that the important issues have already been decided before people get a chance to hear the discussion and offer their own ideas.
Open government is fundamental to the people’s trust in their officials. One slip-up can cast a long shadow of doubt.