Something to hide

Let’s cut through the bullshit for just a second, shall we?

Last week, we ran a story about a meeting among Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Reno City Councilmembers Sharon Zadra and Dwight Dortch and an unnamed person who might be interested in replacing Jeff Beckelman as head of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.

There was never any question about whether the meeting was illegal—not, at least, in our office. We deal with the open-meeting laws and public-document laws on a daily basis. We know there was no quorum. We never said it was a serial meeting. We made these facts clear.

But make no mistake, just because private meetings aren’t illegal, doesn’t make them right. Just because they are held in a public place, doesn’t make them public meetings, either. This person is not a public employee; he or she has no assumption of privacy. Why is his or her identity being kept secret?

A journalist would have to be blind, stupid and deluded not to see that our government has taken enormous liberties with the public’s right to know. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are often blamed, but it’s really much more insidious than that. This government, from the feds on down, has restricted information that used to be easily available. Public documents are withheld at the whim of elected officials, sometimes simply out of political spite.

The question with public documents used to be “What are the specific exceptions under NRS code to the open-records law by which we can withhold this document?” That so-called “balancing test” is no longer applied. The balancing act appears now to be, “Can the person who is asking for these records afford to sue to get them?”

Think this secrecy only pertains to documents or public meetings?

Washoe County Commissioner Bonnie Weber apparently believes her sensibilities trump the First Amendment, and she has been silencing people whose views don’t agree with her own, claiming the commission doesn’t have to tolerate comments that are “irrelevant, repetitious, slanderous, offensive, inflammatory, irrational or amounting to personal attacks.”

So, our local government not only doesn’t want its bosses to have access to the proof of its inadequacies, but it doesn’t want the public to be able to point them out, aloud, in public forums. Any elected official who calls concerned citizens’ comments “irrelevant” is pissing on his or her own oath of office. We can’t wait to hear the rationale presented by Washoe County assistant district attorney Melanie Foster for allowing the First Amendment to be curtailed in a public meeting.

Political speech is the raison d'être for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Open government is a necessity to a functional democracy. The public’s right to information and to petition the government for a redress of grievances are paramount.

And now, returning to the task at hand, we’ve got a few questions.

Who would be so foolish as to believe that this was not city business when the only reason Zadra and Dortch are sitting on the RSCVA board is because they represent the City of Reno? Why would elected Reno officials meet unofficially with someone who was interested in an RSCVA post and not announce who it was?

We’ll tell you why. The reason those officials meet in secret and refuse to disclose the candidate’s name is because they have something to hide.