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Brekhus files open meeting law complaint

By Kristen Hackbarth

Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus said she filed an open meeting law complaint following a joint meeting Friday among the Reno and Sparks city councils and Washoe Board of County Commissioners. 

Brekhus was the only elected official present in Washoe County Commission chambers for the meeting while the others, including managers, participated virtually. 

At the beginning of the meeting she left the dais to provide public comment that none of the posted agendas for the meeting indicated it was a virtual meeting for all of the officials. 

Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus provides public comment at the July 22, 2022 joint meeting of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County officials.

“I’m the one who did not realize this was an entirely virtual meeting. Silly me. Wasn’t on the agenda that I picked up in my office. Wasn’t on the agenda that was posted,” she said. “It doesn’t seem all virtual to me because I see a lot of people in a full chamber.” 

She was referring to the community members who came to provide public comment during the meeting, and who, according to the City of Reno agenda, were required to attend in person or give public comment by email or voicemail.

“Members of the public wishing to attend may do so and participate as provided in the agenda at the designated physical location,” the Reno agenda noted. 

Public comment was only accepted in person, or in advance by email, online form or voicemail message, while elected officials attended the meeting virtually.

District Health Officer Kevin Dick and branding agency representatives presenting on the health district’s name change also spoke to an empty dais.

Nevada’s open meeting law requires the location of the meeting be included in all posted agendas. 

The Washoe County and City of Reno posted agendas listed the Washoe County Commission Chambers at 1001 East Ninth Street as the meeting location, and the City of Sparks agenda listed its own legislative chambers in Sparks.

Fine print on the agendas posted by the county and Reno noted that one or more officials or staff “may attend and participate by remote technology system,” however none of the staff or officials were available in person except for Brekhus. 

Sparks did not include that disclaimer. Brekhus left chambers following her comment to log in to the meeting remotely.

Washoe County’s agenda for the July 22, 2022 joint meeting between the cities of Reno and Sparks and Washoe County.

A number of community members were present in the Washoe County Commission chambers to provide public comment during the meeting. 

William Steward provided public comment during the meeting and remarked on the empty commission chairs. 

“Seeing people face to face is a lot better and I would recommend that in the future – having these meetings in person,” he said. 

Friday wasn’t the first time local officials were criticized for meeting virtually while community members provided comments to a row of empty chairs. 

In September 2021 Reno City Council members were not only not at the meeting in person, several of them had their cameras turned off creating confusion on their votes for some items and forcing the postponement of one agenda item. 

“I’d like to just comment on the dystopian nature of this meeting here and the fact that I’m addressing a virtual council like I’m on the Starship Enterprise when we’re talking about banning whips outside in the streets and we don’t have a place for our most vulnerable people to go,” Ilya Arbatman said during public comment at that meeting.

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