The Washoe County School Board of Trustees’ special meeting on Monday is being challenged for allegedly violating the open meeting law.
The meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the district administrative office on Ninth Street, has two main agenda items related to the censure of Trustee Jeff Church and whether the board violated the open meeting law at its Sept. 28 meeting.
Those agenda items are being challenged. The first is a 200-word run-on sentence that had commenters online today calling it confusing and strange.
Nevada’s open meeting law mandates public meeting agendas be “clear and complete.” The agenda items for Monday, however, drew confusion.
“Things like this are literally why people disengage from involvement in or caring about their local government. Normal-ass citizens who want to know what’s going on see things like this and immediately peace out,” said Conor McQuivey, host of the Renoites podcast.
Trustees will consider whether they violated the open meeting law during Church’s update at the late Sept. meeting.
“The Board may have deliberated on the issue of when [school attorney Neil] Rombardo and President Taylor had knowledge of a former trustee’s change of residence without placing the item on the agenda pursuant to NRS 241.020(3)(d) when President Taylor responded to Trustee Church’s comments,” WCSD spokesperson Megan Downs said. “The board is taking self-corrective action for potential violations during the board reports portion at the end of the meeting on September 28.”
Church, toward the end of the meeting, gave an update on what he has been doing related to the district. He talked about the attempt to censure him — the second major agenda item for Monday’s meeting, which was originally scheduled for September and then Oct. 12.
He raised the issue of whether Taylor and Rombardo had knowledge former Trustee Jacqueline Calvert no longer resided in her district prior to her resignation. Her residency, and who may have had knowledge of it, is what is being investigated by an outside law firm.
Church, during his update, read emails sent by Taylor and Rombardo about the issue. Taylor then invited Rombardo to respond. She also countered what Church said.
The exchange got heated.
“You are out of line,” Church said to Rombardo at one point. Rombardo in turn raised his voice at Church, trying to correct what he implied was incorrect or incomplete information being presented by Church.
Taylor also explained her email responses to Church.
“Let’s not make this into something it isn’t,” she said.
Rombardo added, “I will not be disparaged by a trustee any longer or by the board. If you want to notice me and discuss my ethics at the next meeting, I’m more than happy to do it, but I’m not letting you do this anymore. It’s a violation of [state law].”
Trustee Joe Rodriquez said the discussion was “getting way off topic.”
Watch the 10-minute discussion below.
It was this discussion that prompted the agenda item for Monday about whether the trustees violated the open meeting law.
The meeting agenda also indicates:
“The Board intends to take action to correct these potential OML violations by: 1) accepting the findings of the Gunderson Law Firm’s independent investigation regarding knowledge of [Calvert’s] change in residence; and 2) removing Board Reports from Board’s [sic] future agendas as recommended in the Open Meeting Law Manual from the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.”
No copies of the investigation are available on the district’s meeting website. Downs said the findings would be discussed at the Monday meeting.
Meeting capacity also questioned
Church’s attorney, Stephanie Rice, said “both agenda items are insufficient for open meeting law requirements.” [Disclosure: Rice also represents This Is Reno.]
Church said he is also protesting meeting accommodations. Trustee meetings have been held at the district administrative building, sometimes with people lined up outside to speak during public comment.
An Attorney General’s opinion from 2018 about the Clark County School District (CCSD) determined CCSD should have provided a larger venue for a trustees’ meeting after significant public interest was generated by a meeting topic.
“A Board member requested a large venue be used for the … meeting in anticipation of a large crowd,” then A.G. Adam Laxalt wrote. “When the meeting room filled, public members were directed to an overflow room and then to the lobby of the building, both of which had monitors for [the] public to view the proceedings. However, 100 people were still denied entry due to space limitations.
“To allow public bodies to restrict public participation on subjects known to generate significant public interest simply by holding meetings in small venues would be contrary to the intent and spirit of the [open meeting law],” Laxalt added.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.