Phone calls, faxes violate open meetings law
NEVADA–In early April, the state Supreme Court in Carson City ruled 3-1 that the Nevada Board of Regents violated the state Open Meeting Law when its members conferred on the release of a “media advisory” through telephone calls and faxes.
When a quorum of a public body uses electronic communications to secretly discuss public issues, it violates the open meeting law, the court said.
Specifically, the court found that the regents violated provisions of the law that prohibit closed meetings, require written notice of public meetings, prohibit the use of electronic communications to circumvent the spirit or letter of the law and require a public body to keep written minutes of its meetings.
The court rejected the regents’ contention that the telephone calls did not constitute a meeting. Relying on legislative history and case law, the high court held that a meeting took place even though the participants were not physically present in the same room.
In 1992, one of the regents, Nancy Price, publicly objected to the process by which her fellow regents selected university presidents and an external auditor. In response to the criticism, the Board of Regents chairman faxed a draft media advisory to all members of the board except Price, asking for their feedback. Board members responded through telephone calls charged to the university.
After Price complained, the state attorney general filed suit against the regents, claiming that their actions violated the open meeting law. A trial judge in Reno ruled that telephone polling does not constitute a meeting under any circumstances and the attorney general appealed.
The Nevada Press Association filed an amicus brief in support of the attorney general’s position. (Del Papa v. The Board of Regents of the University and Community College System of Nevada; Attorney General: Frankie Sue Del Papa, Carson City)