Since the June 17 meeting of the Nevada Board of Regents, regents chair James Dean Leavitt has been subjected to severe criticism in letters to the editor and calls to journalists for his handling of the meeting. Leavitt, however, says he acted properly.
Dozens of Nevadans showed up to testify on where the budget ax should fall in higher education. Because cooperative extension and its associated rural programs were expected to be especially hard hit, 4-H participants and their parents were prominent in the audience.
Though the public comment period had been listed for 1:15 p.m., other items were moved ahead on the agenda until public comment did not begin until after 3, by which time many people who had taken time from their workplaces to testify were forced to leave without being heard.
For instance, items 23, 24, 25—all approval of athletic coach contracts—were moved forward on the agenda and engendered debate. Leavitt gave no explanation of why it was urgent that those items be heard out of turn.
Harsh criticism was also heard about what one audience member called Leavitt’s “birthday party for himself.” Leavitt was presiding over his last meeting as chair and used meeting time to play music he likes, play a video of himself being interviewed by a political columnist, and pass out “do rag”-style bandanas to his fellow regents. When coupled with a recess he called so the regents could have photos taken in their new bandanas—the regents had just returned from another recess— the interlude took perhaps half an hour and prompted an audience member to comment on “the amount of hubris that this man has” and to explain to “my kids that, no, this really isn’t how people behave.” Another audience member said it would have been “more appropriate” for personal material to be left for the end of the meeting.
During the meeting, one 4-H mother took Leavitt to task over his handling of the meeting and the board’s delays, and he—according to other audience members—lost his temper.
When the public comment period finally came, the first person up was former state legislator John Carpenter, who was allowed to speak at length. Then when subsequent citizens spoke, they were told to keep it short.
“What it really felt like was, they knew people were going to be there and testifying, and they did every kind of delaying tactic that they could think of to wait people out,” said one person who testified. “And people did leave.”
With one exception, no regent spoke to disagree with Leavitt. Regent Ron Knecht of Carson City apologized to the audience.
Regent Jason Geddes, who is taking over as board chair, did say he had not realized that cooperative extension would be as prominent an issue as it turned out to be and should have been handled differently.
After a complaining letter to the editor by Cathy Smith of Carson City was published in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Leavitt wrote a response and provided a copy to the RN&R. It tends to defend the board, though the criticism was of himself more than of the board:
“Although the board schedule listed 1:15 p.m. as the starting time for public comment, many factors influence the schedule,” Leavitt wrote. “It is important to note that the schedule indicates that times are estimates only. … I ensured that every person who desired to provide public comment was given an opportunity to speak to the board. I allowed two full hours of public comment, which meant that other equally worthy agenda items were moved back until early evening. The entire board stayed until 6:30 p.m. on Thursday evening so that we could accommodate the large number of people who spoke at public comment from 3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. …
“It is customary for the chairman of the board to give a report prior to public comment and prior to the commencement of the main agenda. During my allotted 20 minutes, I played a song and a video for a total of 10 minutes as a prelude to my final remarks as outgoing chairman of the board. The reader’s referenced headgear was a gift to members of my board as a thank you for their public service.”