Regents vote to settle battle over open meeting law
August 20, 2004
RENO- The Board of Regents voted 8-3 Friday to settle a battle with Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval over the open meeting law.
Under terms of the agreement, both the university system and Sandoval’s office agreed to dismiss litigation before the Nevada Supreme Court over whether regents violated the law in holding closed-door sessions which resulted in the demotion of Community College of Southern Nevada President Ron Remington and his chief lobbyist John Cummings.
There have also been legal challenges against the board accusing it of concealing agenda materials and contracts from the public, as well as accusations members have held illegal discussions to decide issues outside the public eye.
Interim Chancellor Jim Rogers told the board the agreement calls for him and Sandoval to meet with key staff and work out procedures to ensure the board complies with the Nevada open meeting law in the future. It also requires the regents to ensure agenda support materials are provided to the public and press when requested.
Most of the discussion centered on the third paragraph of the agreement, which states that any future violations of the open meeting law by the board “may be considered a violation of this settlement and may be considered by the office of the attorney general in determining the nature of enforcement to be undertaken.”
Several board members expressed concern that the agreement was somehow opening them to legal action – possibly even jail or removal from office – if the Attorney General thinks they are violating the open meeting law. Regent Doug Hill, who left before the final vote, described the open meeting law as “a really ugly law” that defies clear interpretation.
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“I’m not signing this agreement because this agreement is a contract, it appears to me, and the people who sign this contract are going to have it enforced against them.”
Regent Tom Kirkpatrick said he still doesn’t believe there was any open meeting law violation by the board. He said he wants the Nevada Supreme court to iron out the rules and, therefore, doesn’t want to dismiss the lawsuits.
“We do not have any clear rules under which to operate,” he said.
But the majority agreed with Rogers, who said he and Sandoval agree regents need to put the entire issue behind them. Now, he said, the Attorney General, the public and the press don’t trust the board, and he said that trust must be restored.
“What the media sees and what the public sees is that we have a policy that says we will not be open unless there is a statute requiring we be open,” Rogers said. “We need to settle the case then develop a set of regulations consistent with the open meeting law.”
Regent Brett Whipple was absent because of a court case where he is defense counsel. Marcia Bandera, Kirkpatrick and Derby voted against the plan.
Along with the stipulation, the board approved a deal to settle their legal battles with Cummings. The arrangement allows Cummings to keep his $78,500 faculty post at CCSN with normal teaching duties. But it specifies he will never again lobby for or against the system at the Legislature.
Contact Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.