Carson City, NV – Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt announced this week that the Washoe County Board of School Trustees and its presiding chair violated the Open Meeting Law. The attorney general’s office investigated a complaint filed by a citizen, who had complained about her public comments being cut short prematurely. The Open Meeting Law requires that all meetings of public bodies be open, with few exceptions, and all comments by the general public taken. The board’s presiding chair was found in violation of the Open Meeting Law for preventing public comments about Superintendent Pedro Martinez’s meeting with school board staff following his firing of former School District Police Chief Mike Mieras in June 2014.
“This office is committed to investigating and enforcing Nevada’s Open Meeting Law, a fundamental right of the people which allows Nevadans to participate in the public process,” said Laxalt. “Even small violations of such laws can create mistrust in the public process, and should be promptly fixed.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the citizen accused Martinez of giving inaccurate and misleading information. Then, counsel for the District and the presiding chair stopped the citizen from making any further comments about Martinez, at which point a board trustee offered a rebuttal. The trustee pointed out that the public may speak about any matter within the trustees’ jurisdiction, including critical comments about Martinez.
Even after the trustee’s comments, the presiding chair asked the citizen to put her comments in writing.
The Attorney General Office Opinion states that the ability of the public to question the fitness of community leaders, including administrators in the school system, especially in a forum like the trustees’ meetings, is an important public interest to be protected. The presiding chair’s decision to prematurely stop a member of the public from commenting is an unreasonable restriction on such comment, and a violation of the right to speak on a matter of public concern. Therefore, on October 28, 2014, the Washoe County Board of School Trustees and the presiding chair violated the Open Meeting Law. In accordance with the law, the Attorney General’s Opinion must be placed on the next agenda of the Washoe County Board of School Trustees.
This complaint was investigated by Senior Deputy Attorney General George H. Taylor.