Opinion: Nevada’s Public Records Act needs better enforcement
We need a little “Sunshine” in Nevada. I’m not talking about the weather; I’m referring to access to public records.
Recently I attended a meeting of the Nevada Legislature’s Assembly Committee on Government Affairs to learn about and provide testimony regarding a bill (AB42) that was presented by the Attorney General’s office, having to do with changes to the Nevada Public Records Act.
In Nevada, unless a record fits in to one of the several hundred specific exemptions found in various parts of the Nevada Revised Statutes, all records of public agencies are considered public records.
But it’s not easy to find all those exceptions. Some public agencies are very helpful in providing public documents; others use every possible excuse to withhold information.
The stated purpose of the bill was to categorize the exemptions, making them easier to identify. However, in the process, the bill’s language had ambiguities that would more likely be used to broaden the scope of government records not subject to the Public Records Act.
In other words, instead of providing more access to public records, the changes would serve to deny that access. I was pleased that the Attorney General’s representative, Mr. Brett Kandt, emphasized that was never the intent of this bill. He acknowledged that the language needed to be changed.
Having made a number of public records requests of IVGID myself, I can tell you that our laws need to be strengthened in this area, not diluted.
For example, IVGID has refused to provide me with a copy of its IT Master Plan, citing a statute that exempts a record, “that is prepared and maintained for the purpose of preventing or responding to an act of terrorism…” (NRS 239C.210).
Was that really the purpose of IVGID’s IT master plan? After observing IVGID’s penchant for not going out to bid on major expenditures for IT consultants, computer equipment and systems, I really wanted to know how our fees and taxes were to be spent.
As the former IT Manager of a large Bay Area airport, I understand that a portion of an airport IT Plan may deal with security, but much of it has nothing to do with security. For a recreation district, there is an even smaller portion related to security.
In a utility district IT Master Plan, elements dealing with billing (IVGID bills for water and sewer) have nothing to do with terrorist attacks. Our statutes provide for the redaction of those portions of a document that involve security, but IVGID refused to provide any part of the document.
I’m not the only one who has been unable to penetrate IVGID’s veil of secrecy. At a recent Board meeting, Trustee Matthew Dent recounted how he has requested certain information from IVGID’s management regarding capital projects and has been frustrated in those attempts.
Further, IVGID’s attorney has aided and abetted staff in denying certain public records.
Trustee Dent requested that the matter be placed on the next meeting agenda. Look at the agenda for the meeting of February 22; that item did not appear. IVGID professes to be open and transparent. Are these examples of transparency?
IVGID GM Steve Pinkerton claims he is trying to “engage” the community. But the actions of IVGID management and several Trustees have served to disengage and to deceive.
Apparently refusing to share financial information, even with an elected Trustee, is clear evidence that IVGID does not fulfill its duty of transparency, nor does it adhere to the Nevada Statutes with respect to public records.
Limiting an individual’s time to comment to only 3 minutes per month before the Board votes on numerous items (regular meetings occur only once a month) is ludicrous.
We need better enforcement of the Public Records Act. Contact your legislators and tell them you want to stop the abuse and deliberate concealment of public records.
Ask for creation of a State Commission similar to the Ethics Commission, to review public records requests that have been denied and give advisory opinions.
A citizen shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to access public records, but with our existing law, that is the only remedy when requests are denied. Sunshine should be free of charge.
Judy Miller is an Incline Village resident and former IVGID Board of Trustees candidate.