The Reno Gazette-Journal has reversed its position of support for City Council meetings held at locations distant from Reno.
Mayor Bob Cashell recently proposed an overnight Reno City Council meeting at his Topaz Lodge in southern Douglas County. City Manager Charles McNeely proposed making it a joint meeting of the county commission and city council. Leaders of community groups oppose the remote location.
In a Feb. 1 editorial, the RG-J argued, “While there is little question that the mayor is well- intentioned and made his offer in the interest of better government (the public and media are also invited), getting all those officials together, far from the city, is bound to raise a few eyebrows.”
The editorial further said, “It would be a challenge to convince citizens that no public business was being discussed or decisions being made when officials are socializing and having dinner as guests of another official.”
Once a leading Nevada voice for open government, the Gazette-Journal in the 1990s became more tolerant of various techniques for restricting public access. Last week’s editorial contrasts with the newspaper’s support of two days of Reno City Council meetings held in California in April 1996.
The Nevada open meeting law requires specificity in agendas ("a clear and complete statement of the topics scheduled to be considered"), but the council agenda for those 1996 meetings at a Donner Lake resort said only that the meeting would be a “planning, goal-setting and team-building session,” plus determining performance requirements for McNeely.
At that time, the Gazette-Journal editorialized that the meeting would be “good for the council and good for the city. … City Councilmembers, like corporate executives, need uninterrupted time to focus on long-term planning, as opposed to short-term solutions.”
The Nevada Attorney General’s office, which had previously barred “the use of highly general or vague language” in agendas, responded to the Donner Lake meeting with a new opinion by Deputy Attorney General Robert Auer saying that if a public body called its meeting something else—like a “goal setting session” or a “retreat"—it didn’t need to comply with the law’s requirement for agenda specificity. With that license, such meetings spread, used by many public bodies all over Nevada.
At the Donner meetings, the council discussed (among other things) making the jobs of mayor and councilmembers full time, plans for the Riverside Hotel, development in Stead, Sen. William Raggio’s candidate recruitment for the Republican Party, riverfront and downtown development and numerous other items. The council declined to provide transportation for the public to the meetings, as proposed by community leader Bob Fulkerson, but a handful of members of the public got there anyway.
There were assurances that no decision-making would go on at the Donner Lake meetings, but at the next council meetings held in Reno, previously adversarial councilmembers suddenly started voting in unison, suggesting that consensus had been reached in California on some issues.