Reinforcements for the open meetings law
The several additions to Nevada’s open meetings law from Senate Bill 267 are welcome reinforcements to the public’s right to see and hear its government in action.
As is usually the case, the new requirements are a response to a public body that saw a need to skirt the law’s most basic and general provision – that public business be conducted in front of the public. But the state Board of Regents, which oversees universities and colleges, somehow got the notion it should meet in secret to get rid of a college president and lobbyist.
This is exactly the area where many government boards want to squeeze out the public. They hide behind the excuse, “It’s a personnel issue,” as if decisions to hire and fire public employees are somehow no one’s business but their own. Such decisions obviously are just as consequential as rezoning a piece of property, for example.
The new law requires anyone who is the subject of a personnel meeting be allowed to attend. He or she may also request the meeting be open to the public. Those are minimal standards for a system that is supposed to be open. We would have preferred the meetings be open unless the person requests they be closed – and is able to cite a specific reason for closure.
Still, it is good to see Nevada’s Legislature and Attorney General’s Office moving toward openness in meetings.
However, a key area of Nevada law remains murky – open records. The ability of the public to read and review the millions of records and documents in government offices is just as important as open meetings.
The existing standard comes not so much from legislation as from a court ruling, known as Donrey v. Bradshaw, which opened the door for government bureaucrats to “balance” the interests of public disclosure and secrecy before deciding whether to release some records.
It will be a large job to clean up Nevada statutes to require more open records. Unfortunately, it’ll probably take another example of someone trying to hide from the public before it gets much attention.