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University Regents violate Nevada Open Meeting Laws

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University Regents violate Nevada Open Meeting Laws

  • The state supreme court ruled the university board failed to provide enough public notice for discussions about a drug raid investigation.

May 13, 2003 — The University and Community College System of Nevada Board of Regents violated the state’s open meeting law twice in September 2000 when members discussed details of a controversial report issued by the Nevada Division of Investigation concerning a drug raid at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled May 2.

During a Sept. 7, 2000, meeting of a board committee, one regent criticized the actions of UNLV police and another commented on the danger of drugs on campus. During the meeting, the regents’ general counsel repeatedly warned the committee to stop mentioning the issue, recommending they put it on the agenda for a future meeting.

Thomas Kirkpatrick, chairman of the committee, presented a summary report to a full meeting of the Board of Regents September 8 outlining the committee’s discussion, including discussion about the law enforcement report on the drug raid.

In December 2000, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval filed a complaint, saying that the two discussions violated the state’s open meetings law. He sought a declaration that the regents violated the law and an injunction to force it to abide by the law in the future.

The regents countered that the attorney general’s position would impinge on their First Amendment rights and places too much of a burden on public bodies.

The supreme court remanded the case to a district court to decide whether there should be injunctive relief in the matter.

The supreme court explained: “In this instance, the NDI report was a matter of substantial public interest, yet the agendas for the Committee and Board meetings did not state that the report would be discussed.”

The court said that discussing the report in abstract may not have violated the Open Meeting Law, but by discussing details of the report, criticizing the police department and commenting on drug use at UNLV, the committee went too far.

The court stated that the legislature clearly created the open meeting laws because “incomplete and poorly written agendas deprive citizens of their right to take part in government” as well as interfere with the “press’ ability to report the actions of the government.”

The court also said, “Nevada’s Open Meeting Law seeks to give the public clear notice of the topics to be discussed at public meetings so that the public can attend a meeting when an issue of interest will be discussed. The Nevada legislature enacted the Open Meeting Law to ensure that all public bodies deliberate and take action openly because ‘all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business.'”

The justices said the free-speech rights of the regents are not significantly harmed because they can talk about any issue they wish, as long as it is placed on the agenda prior to the discussion.

(Attorney General v. Board of Regents) KD


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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