The City of Reno is moving its online meeting portal to a new system, and that process means decades of meeting materials will no longer be publicly accessible, a city official today confirmed.
City Clerk Mikki Huntsman said only what is required by law will be moved to the new meeting portal. That means years of meeting videos, minutes and meeting journals – previously available – are not planned to be available on the city’s website.
“Meetings recordings are only required for three years by law,” Huntsman said. “Old videos will not be reinstated – not if we’re not required to. Video recordings will not get re-uploaded. Only documents required by law will be re-uploaded.”
That decision has open government advocates alarmed.
“Governments should provide easy access to public records as [much as] possible,” said Maggie McLetchie, transparency and media attorney who serves on the board of the Nevada Open Government Coalition. “That includes historical information. Reducing what’s available and reducing accessibility are steps backwards at a time when we need more, not less transparency from government.”
Reno historian Alicia Barber, who relies on city council meeting records for her Barber Brief publication, records she frequently links to directly, also expressed concern.
“I hope the City will reconsider its decision to remove older records from its website,” she told This Is Reno. “Those City Council staff reports, minutes, and documents from 10, even 20 years ago provide critical context for understanding today’s actions and decisions. I’ve constantly relied upon easily searching and linking to those documents in my own research and when explaining City actions and issues to the public.”
A requirement for three years to retain certain records, such as recordings of meetings, means anything past 2019 is now no longer accessible in the city’s new system. Supplemental meeting materials are only required to be available for one year, according to the state’s records retention schedule.
“We were providing more records than what was required,” Huntsman explained.
She added that people can make public records requests for anything removed from the website. Without a search function for the recently removed records, however, users will have to guess what it is they are looking for and when the topics may have been discussed.
The city’s old system allowed users to search agendas, minutes and meeting journals to find where a specific topic was discussed – Tesla, homelessness or development approvals, for example.
Old records not included in the new system will no longer be searchable, which hinders the ability for people to do research on complex issues for historical purposes, news reporting, academic research or for litigation.
“Even if the City of Reno believes they are doing more than what is required, it makes no sense to start doing less than it has been doing,” McLetchie added. “Reno should see being open and transparent as part of its core mission, not just a matter of technical compliance.”
Richard Karpel with the Nevada Press Association agreed.
“It’s astonishing that a city official would actually admit the city is intentionally reducing transparency so they can ensure they’re not providing any more than is absolutely necessary under the law,” he said.
Huntsman said past meeting videos will still be available on the city’s YouTube account. The Google video platform does not allow video downloads without a paid subscription or a third-party application, however, nor is it searchable in the same way as the city’s previous system.
Huntsman said the city started in mid-July moving to a new platform. The screenshot below shows the new platform is now missing minutes, journals and videos.
Huntsman said she was not entirely sure what will be reinstated, “but I know it will be less than what was previously available. We’re not required to publish the old agendas and minutes on our website. Only stuff within [state required] retention period will be reinstated.”
Meeting materials on the city’s old system went back 20 years to 2002 with complete materials back to 2012. The new system only shows materials created since 2019. Those records are also incomplete.
“[They] should be back up and running in the next month or so,” Huntsman said. “It’s going to take time to transition from the old database to the new database.”
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. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.