Advice trips up board, again

For the second time in less than a year, the Nevada Attorney General's office has accused the Washoe County School Board of an open meeting law violation for following the advice of the school board lawyer.

At the Oct. 28 meeting, local resident Karen Dunaway was attempting to criticize the firing of school district police chief Mike Mieras by Superintendent Pedro Martinez when—according to the AG opinion—board counsel Randy Drake interrupted her remarks on the ground that Martinez had not been notified of the topic. Board member Barbara McLaury, who was presiding at the session, also said that Dunaway's comments were inappropriate.

Board member David Aiazzi disagreed, saying that the notification requirements applied to business before the board, not to the public comment period. But Drake's reading prevailed, and Dunaway was not permitted to complete her statement.

The attorney general's opinion read in part, “Ms. Dunaway was not a member of a public body; therefore, the notice provisions of [the open meeting law] did not apply to her. … Chairperson McLaury's decision to stop Ms. Dunaway's comment was an unreasonable restriction on public comment and a violation of Ms. Dunaway's right to speak on a matter of public concern.” The opinion did not address Drake's conduct.

According to the Nevada Open Meeting Manual, prepared by the attorney general's office, “[W]hen members of a public body rely on advice of counsel, they should not be held to know that a violation occurred.”

The latest opinion was prepared by deputy attorney general George Taylor, who in 2013 wrote, “[P]ublic body members may be protected from penalties if the member has sought advice of counsel and acted in accordance with the advice.”