Open your documents
It takes a certain amount of bravery to volunteer to be on a board or commission for the city of Reno. For one, it’s a relatively thankless job. Most people who comment on your good efforts are people who want to drive from the back seat, who don’t do the upfront heavy lifting to develop policy or recommendations but just want to come in later and complain about what you’ve done. Often, it’s boring drudgery.
Still, those who have the fortitude to believe that they should be able to make policy for other people are often of the self-confident stripe.
The public arena can be a frightening place. There are individuals out there who can be threatening. But the fact is, those scary individuals have as much right to offer their opinions as the most credentialed business-person in the state.
That’s how government works. People are supposed to be able to speak to the people who are representing them (with or without their consent). That’s why meetings are held in the public’s eye. That’s why documents are accessible. That’s why we have laws to ensure our government and the people who administer it are available for public scrutiny. It’s so we, the people, can gain access to our government and make sure the people who are speaking for us are acting in our best interests.
All this stuff should go without saying. Government and the people who are working in it are supposed to be open. That is how our democratic republic works. There’s a word for governments, politicians and bureaucrats who want to conduct business in secret, hide behind closed doors, protect their cronies from that nasty, inconvenient public—and it’s not “democracy.”
On Jan. 10, the Reno Gazette-Journal ran a story detailing its efforts to get contact information for people who are serving on the city of Reno’s public boards and commissions. Up until now, a hard copy was easily available to members of the public—just walk up to the clerk’s office and ask. But now, Reno chief deputy city attorney Bill Sherman has decided that he gets to decide what information is available. He redacted the information from the documents he gave to the newspaper and cited AB188 as the reason.
Far be it from the Reno News & Review to actually read the law that Sherman cited, which was signed by the governor on June 8, 2005 and added to NRS Chapter 310, but this paragraph caught our attention:
“This bill also provides that the individual electronic mail address or telephone number of a person is not confidential and may be disclosed in accordance with applicable law if the person or his agent provided the address or number, as applicable, to a governmental entity in the course of an existing business or contractual relationship or in the course of establishing such a relationship.” Get that? Not confidential. You can read it yourself in its entirety at www.leg.state.nv.us/73rd/bills/AB/AB188_EN.pdf. We also recommend a reading of the Nevada Senate hearing on A.B. 188 at www.leg.state.nv.us/73rd/Minutes/Senate/GA/Final/4381.pdf.
Integrity on the parts of the RG-J and Bill Sherman are givens. But when one phone call—"I can’t legally give you this in one document, so here are two"—is all that prevents a government employee from providing public information to an entity that has every right to ask for it, isn’t there an obvious problem with the city’s fundamental view of customer service?