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RSCVA denies online access to its board meetings

By Bob Conrad

The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority for months has been denying virtual access to members of the public to its board meetings. 

Board members, however, can attend meetings online. That same ability to attend does not extend to members of the public, who, if they want to watch meetings as they are happening, have to attend RSCVA board meetings in person.

RSCVA officials said they do not have to provide real-time, virtual access to their meetings for members of the public.

“Based on our legal counsel, everyone outside of the board and staff are able to attend in-person, so we’re not obligated to allow non-Board and non-staff members Zoom access,” said RSCVA spokesperson Ben McDonald. “We have a physical location for people who would like to attend.”

He said the last live-streamed meeting was Jan. 27. 

Most local government bodies offer the ability to watch meetings online while they are happening – typically on Zoom, Facebook or Youtube. Some bodies have come under fire for having elected officials attend virtually while the public has to attend in person.

A joint meeting among Sparks, Reno and Washoe County officials last month had only elected politicians attending online while members of the public had to attend in person. 

Reno Council member Jenny Brekhus filed an open meeting law complaint over the issue after she was told she could not attend the meeting in person, even after providing in-person public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

In September 2021 Reno City Council members were not only not at the meeting in person, several of them had their cameras turned off which created confusion on their votes for some items and forced the postponement of one agenda item. A public commenter at that meeting called the situation dystopian.

RSCVA makes its meetings available online only after the meetings have taken place. 

Patrick File, a media law professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who is also with the Nevada Open Government Coalition, called RSCVA’s practice unfair. 

“Public bodies’ deliberations and actions are required to be taken openly under Nevada open meetings law,” he said. “At a time when public officials often choose to use video conferencing technology to conduct the people’s business, it is unfair to then limit the public and news media to only attending and participating in those meetings in person.”

RSCVA President and CEO Charles Harris
RSCVA President and CEO Charles Harris

RSCVA President Charles Harris did not respond to whether RSCVA will continue denying real-time virtual access to its meetings.

He said, instead, “All of our meetings are in person where sometimes board members may choose to attend remotely via Zoom. We always welcome media to all of our meetings and will continue to do so.”

McDonald cited the pandemic as a reason why Zoom access is not available to the public. 

RSCVA staff in late 2020 were caught trash-talking Harris at the end of a board meeting on Zoom after he had been on the job for only two weeks.

This Is Reno was watching the meeting and had to file a public records request with RSCVA to get the complete copy of the virtual meeting because RSCVA’s online video deleted the hot-mic incident.

Staff were complaining they didn’t get retroactive back pay approved by the board.

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