UNLV regents violate open-meetings law for undocumented agenda topics, court rules

NEVADA — State officials must now accurately informthe public what will be discussed at meetings after the Nevada Supreme Courtdecided last month that the board of regents at University of Nevada, Las Vegas,violated the state’s open-meetings law by discussing a topic not listed on itsagenda.In reversing a district court ruling, the state high court saidon May 2 that the board of regents had failed to issue a “clear and complete”list of topics to be discussed at a public meeting, as the Nevada Open MeetingLaw requires. On September 7, 2000, a committee of the universityregents discussed a controversial report prepared by the Nevada Division ofInvestigation concerning a campus police raid for drugs in a dormitory. Oneregent criticized the actions of the university police department and anothercommented on the danger of drugs on campus. The committee contemplatedrecommending that the police be disarmed.Throughout the meeting, theuniversity’s general counsel warned the regents that discussion of the raidcould violate the open-meetings law, according to Campus Environment CommitteeChairman Tom Kirkpatrick. The counsel recommended the issue be put on the agendafor a future meeting.The full board of regents met September 7-8, 2000,and Kirkpatrick reported on the issues discussed by the committee, includingdiscussion about the dormitory raid.Attorney General Brian Sandoval thenfiled a complaint, claiming that the committee and the full board had violatedthe open-meetings law and sought an injunction so that the regents had to abideby the law in the future.In the decision, the state supreme courtconsidered the intent of the open-meetings law, which is to ensure that allpublic bodies deliberate and take action openly. “Incomplete and poorlywritten agendas deprive citizens of their right to take place in government,”and interfere with the “press’ ability to report the actions of government,” thecourt concluded.The court wrote that the investigative report into theraid was a matter of public interest and that although discussion of its contentin the abstract might not have violated the law, the board “went too far” whenit brought up details of the report. The state supreme court alsorejected the regents’ argument that the attorney general’s claim infringed ontheir First Amendment rights and placed too much of a burden on publicbodies.”The regents are free to speak on any topic of their choosing,provided they place the topic on the agenda,” the court wrote. The highcourt sent it back to the district court to determine if an injunction should beissued, which would force the regents to provide complete agendas to the publicin the future.Regent Kirkpatrick said he agreed the board had violatedthe law and also that the public has a right to know what occurs in publicmeetings.”Sometimes I just wish we could meet and hash out issues,”Kirkpatrick said. “Then we could be more open and really state what we thinkinstead of trying to be proper and correct.”The university generalcounsel often warned the regents when discussions could violate theopen-meetings law, according to Kirkpatrick.

Sandoval v. The Board of Regents of the University and Community College System of Nevada, 67 P.3d 902 (Nev. 2003)