The state determined recently that the Reno City Council violated an open meeting law last summer when it was discussing a proposed ordinance on its agenda then shifted to talking about a specific project at the University of Nevada, Reno, which wasn’t on the agenda.
The City Council acknowledged the findings during its virtual meeting Wednesday.
Lori Wray of Scenic Nevada filed a complaint with the Nevada Office of the Attorney General suggesting the council violated state open meeting laws. While the council was said to have violated the “clear and complete standard,” the state said Wray’s other allegation that the council didn’t provide opportunity for live public comment was unfounded.
An agenda item July 22, 2020 indicated the council would discuss skyway design guidelines and criteria that would exempt certain projects from Design Review Committee oversight. However, the council also allowed Heidi Gansert, UNR external communications director, to provide details of a specific UNR skyway project as she was asked questions. Gansert discussed reasons for the project, the location of the proposed bridge, the contractor, the architect, the beneficiaries, and ADA compliance.
“While the council asserts that the basis of the agendized proposed text amendment was spurred by a pending special use permit application filed by UNR for a skyway project, the council’s consideration of the UNR special use permit at the July 22 Council was not related to the proposed text amendment itself…,” deputy attorney general Justin Taruc wrote in a statement.
Councilwoman Neoma Jardon said it’s natural for the public to want to know what’s prompting specific discussions.
“For example, someone comes in and wants a zone change. That’s what the agenda item is,” Jardon said. “People will evidently ask, ‘What is this thing you’re wanting to do here? What is the project? What is the scope?’ We will often call in the developer and ask, ‘What are your plans here?’”
City Manager Douglas Thornley said understanding technicalities of the open meeting law can be challenging and that he’s looking into how training for city officials might be beneficial to avoid such situations in the future.
“A well-intentioned effort to provide context through discussion of a specific project at the university ran afoul of the clean and complete agenda standard,” Thornley said.
Since the council took no action on the UNR skyway project at that meeting, the Attorney General said it would abstain from bringing suit.
The Nevada Open Meeting Law states an agenda of a public body must consist of a “clear and complete statement of the topics schedule to be considered during the meeting.” This stems from the belief that incomplete and poorly writing agenda deprive citizens fo their right to take part in government.