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AG: School District Did Not Violate Open Meeting Law

By Bob Conrad
Superintendent Traci Davis and Board President Katy Simon Holland. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Superintendent Traci Davis and Board President Katy Simon Holland. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Superintendent Traci Davis and Board President Katy Simon Holland. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees faced two open meeting law complaints for a mid-March meeting. ThisisReno and Joe Hart of KRNV separately filed complaints against the district after school Superintendent Traci Davis and Chief General Counsel Neil Rombardo interrupted public comment at the March 12 meeting to authorize an investigation into ongoing complaints at the district.

Board President Katy Simon Holland at the time questioned Davis’ and Rombardo’s discussion. Area Superintendent Lauren Ford demanded that the district investigate complaints allegedly made about her.

Davis and Rombardo, in what some claimed was an orchestrated maneuver, stopped public comment to discuss the matter.

“I’m a little concerned about our discussion of the matter, and counsel I will defer to you,” Simon Holland said.

“It’s not a vote of the board,” Rombardo replied. “This is a decision of the superintendent.”

“But it’s being discussed in our meeting, and it’s not on the agenda,” Simon Holland said.

“Well, the open meeting law controls what the board may vote on,” Rombardo retorted. “[The open meeting law] specifically says that we can comment on public comment; we just can’t take action. We’re not asking the board to take action. The superintendent’s asking me to take action.”

The Attorney General’s Office agreed.

“Actions by the District Superintendent are not subject to the [open meeting law] as the District Superintendent is not a public body,” wrote Chief Deputy Attorney General Rosalie Bordelove. “Additionally, the Board did not take a motion on the matter and did not entertain a vote regarding the matter.”

WCSD attorney Neil Rombardo.
WCSD attorney Neil Rombardo.

Investigation Ongoing

Ford requested an investigation into whether she gave cannabis back to a student. Assistant Principal Trina Olsen, whom the district was found to have illegally fired last year, reported that she had heard Ford gave back drugs to a student, not that Ford, in fact, had done so.

Olsen reported the matter to Ford’s then superior, Area Superintendent Roger Gonzalez. WCSD said Gonzalez investigated the claim at the time.

“Area Superintendent Roger Gonzalez investigated the matter, but the investigation itself and the results of the investigation are confidential personnel matters, and as a result, the District cannot provide further details,” said WCSD spokesperson Megan Downs. “The District will be releasing all information related to Ms. Ford’s complaint investigated by a [third] party independent law office.”

Olsen said the district never asked her about what she reported. In documents provided to ThisisReno, Gonzalez said that drugs were given back to a student because the student was an informant.

Former WCSD Area Superintendent Roger Gonzalez said that marijuana was given back to a student because the student was serving as an informant. WCSD later denied this happened even though other district personnel said that marijuana was, in fact, given back to the student. The wallet clearly contained cannabis, an employee told ThisisReno.

Olsen prevailed in arbitration against the district. WCSD was chastised by the arbitrator. She called the district’s actions retaliatory, arbitrary, and capricious.

Arbitrator Andrea Dooley summarized Olsen's complaint.
Arbitrator Andrea Dooley summarized Olsen’s complaint about whether marijuana was given back to a student.

Critics commenting on Facebook questioned the district’s approval of the investigation, which also seeks to investigate Olsen’s whistle-blower complaint against the district. WCSD refused to disclose how much money was authorized for the investigations. The district hired a local attorney to conduct the investigations. He can charge up to $375/hour.

That attorney, Anthony Hall, is also defending the district in a lawsuit filed by former administrator Jenny Hunt, formerly Jenny Ricci, who is alleging sex discrimination and retaliation by WCSD.

“Mr. Hall and I met on the investigations, and we agreed to limit the scope of the investigations to only the written allegations and nothing more to avoid a long, drawn-out process,” Rombardo wrote in a statement to ThisisReno.

When asked about the attorney’s dual representation of the district, Rombardo called the implication of the question insulting.

“As noted in the Attorney General’s recent findings, higher authorities continue to find Washoe County School District’s practices — hiring and otherwise — to be transparent and in accordance with all state and federal laws,” Rombardo said. “Of course, it is your choice whether to question the ethics and professionalism of Mr. Hall; however … his reputation is beyond reproach.

“Any suggestion that Mr. Hall would not be impartial is unfounded and not based on any fact other than mere conjecture. It also is insulting to Mr. Hall’s professionalism.

“As a public entity, we pride ourselves on being accountable to our constituents. We know the public would want us to hire the most qualified person for the job, and we have fulfilled that expectation.”

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Elaine Hoem May 24, 2019 - 8:14 am

I think the school district and its attorney will continue to defend themselves and find any questioning otherwise to be ‘insulting’. Yet, you are one of the ones to raise concerns. Keep doing so as they arise as someone needs to hold them accountable.

Eric Boyer May 22, 2019 - 3:13 pm

Took another stab and the district and failed. Done yet?

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad May 22, 2019 - 3:52 pm

Believe me, I wish. I think what a lot of folks may not understand is that this reporting has been driven by reader complaints against the school district. Many have been substantive; many not. If you can get parents, teachers, administrators, and community members to stop asking us to look into these issues, we’ll both get a win.

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