Bring the public in

Our topic today is getting information to the public, and we offer two grievances.

First: Last week the Reno City Council met during its regular meeting on matters dealing with Waste Management Inc., the company that runs trash collection in the city. But you wouldn’t have known about it if you had relied on the agenda. This is how that agenda item read: “Update and discussion on Exclusive Franchise Agreements for Residential and Commercial Solid Waste and Recyclable Materials with Reno Disposal Company, Inc. and Disposal Agreement for Solid Waste and Recyclable Materials with Refuse, Inc.”

Now, we know that Reno Disposal is technically the company that has the franchise, because Waste Management acquired Reno Disposal, the long-time company that served the valley. But how many of our residents, given the turnover in population, should be expected to know what this item dealt with? Waste Management they likely recognize from the trucks that trundle past their homes. Reno Disposal? Not so much.

For that matter, what did the item deal with? It dealt with the city wanting more oversight over the franchise agreement and whether recycling is being conducted in concert with that agreement. But how would residents know that from the agenda?

For comparison, take a look at this agenda item from the Aug. 10 Sparks City Council meeting: “Consideration, discussion and possible direction to the City Manager regarding the proposal provided by Waste Management for a potential amendment of the Franchise Agreement concerning the hauling of garbage and residential solid waste.” This is far from perfect, but it’s a lot more informative than the Reno item.

All our local government agendas have become impossible. Residents need them to be written clearly.

Second: When he ran for attorney general, Adam Laxalt said, “I will be my own man and only answer to Nevadans in my quest to make government clean and transparent.”

Transparent, huh? When the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada sued to overturn the new school grant law, Laxalt declined to comment on “pending litigation.”

An April lawsuit against the state over prison conditions? Laxalt: No comment because of “pending litigation.”

A July lawsuit against the state by fired teachers? Aide to Laxalt: “We do not comment on pending litigation or whether or not we’ll get involved.”

An August lawsuit challenging the state’s lifetime supervision of sexual offenders? Laxalt: No comment because of “pending litigation.”

Laxalt is not a private attorney. He’s a public counsel, paid by the taxpayers. And these cases are not criminal, they’re civil. There is no ethical prohibition against Laxalt keeping the public informed on his office’s activities. Quite the contrary—there is an obligation for him to explain himself. If he didn’t want to be a public officeholder, he shouldn’t have run for the job. There is plenty he can tell the public without compromising cases. Are we to believe there is nothing he has to say about the school grant program? About alleged gladiatorial contests in state prison?

Laxalt’s example is spreading. Other agencies are starting to use the “pending litigation” fig leaf for shutting the public out.

No one expects Laxalt to explain his legal strategies. But no Nevada attorney general in our memory has been as secretive as Laxalt. It needs to stop.