The Washoe County school board has accepted a settlement with the attorney general’s office, which found that the board violated the Nevada open meeting law when it appointed Traci Davis superintendent last March without proper notice and an agenda item to support the appointment.
Under the settlement, board members acknowledged that they violated the law. They also agreed to pay a $500 fine to be divided equally among the seven members. Payment of the fine was suspended, however, on the condition that neither the board nor individual members commit any further violations for a year.
While finding that the board violated the law, the attorney general said the board’s decision to rescind the appointment later during the March meeting was an appropriate corrective action and a “significant mitigating factor in this violation.” The board’s previous violations of the law also are relevant, the attorney general added.
Board members rescinded the appointment after learning from a newspaper website comment that their earlier action may have violated the law. The website comment was relayed by school district staff to a board member during a recess, the attorney general’s office said.
Based on the circumstances, the attorney general said that forgoing prosecution of the board is in the public’s interest and that the settlement is an appropriate compromise.
The agenda item for the March meeting specified that the board was only to discuss a search for a new superintendent, not to vote on an appointment. Under the open meeting law, the agenda must contain a “clear and complete statement of the topics scheduled to be considered during the meeting.”
Two board members, Nick Smith and Veronica Frenkel, expressed objections to making an appointment at the meeting and voted against the appointment.
Board members “should have recognized and obeyed the fundamental principle of the (opening meeting law)—there can be no action taken unless it appears on the agenda,” the attorney general’s office said.
Board members were advised by Christopher Reich, who was a school district attorney at the time, that they could make the appointment.
The attorney general’s office said the open meeting law “does not provide immunity to members of a public body for reliance on counsel’s advice when there are specific facts showing that such reliance was clearly unreasonable.” And in this case, the attorney general concluded, the board’s reliance was not reasonable.
The attorney general found the board violated the law previously when it attempted to fire then-Superintendent Pedro Martinez in July 2014. In that case, the meeting agenda did not mention any discussion or action at all regarding Martinez.