Poster children for open government
Nevada’s Board of Regents, running the biggest operation and wielding the biggest single budget in state government, also happen to currently hold the record as the worst violators of the state’s open-meetings law.
In fact, the Attorney General’s Office labeled the regents “serial violators” of the law in the latest complaint, in which the board’s attorney refused to make public a draft contract agreement with interim chancellor Jim Rogers.
There are several points to be made here:
— Not all members of the board are inclined toward secretiveness. Mark Alden, Howard Rosenberg, Steve Sisolak and Linda Howard seem to be swimming against the tide of secrecy.
— Most of their problems stem from their attorney, Tom Ray, who when given the choice between open government and closed government tends to advise them to keep things closed.
— Criticisms of the regents over the past year may be only the tip of the iceberg. There are allegations from a regent that the board’s attorney routinely labels material given to the board as “draft” documents to keep them away from public scrutiny.
— Nevada’s open meetings law has no teeth. Aside from a slap-on-the-wrist admonishment and an order to go back and do over any business not conducted openly, boards and commissions aren’t punished for their secrecy.
This last deficiency will be addressed by the Nevada Legislature when it convenes in February 2005. It’s likely a law will be passed allowing for board members to be fined if they violate the open-meetings law.
The regents will be the poster children for such a law, but complaints have increased statewide. Part of the reason is that Attorney General Brian Sandoval takes the open-meetings law seriously, something his predecessor didn’t always do.
Still, it’s a shame boards have to be caught and punished to get them to operate in public. Far more will be accomplished by strong leaders who advocate open government, who insist the public be welcomed to scrutinize their debates and actions, and who understand the integrity of the process and trust in their decisions is bolstered – not threatened – by openness.