School board accused of open records violation

A lawsuit was filed Monday and amended Thursday seeking a court order to obtain communications between school board trustees related to their office.

A lawsuit was filed Monday and amended Thursday seeking a court order to obtain communications between school board trustees related to their office.

One of the complaints speakers at school board meetings have had is that four trustees are spending a lot of time looking at their phones.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in Douglas County District Court seeking to learn if trustees Susan Jansen, Doug Englekirk, Dave Burns and Katherine Dickerson were deliberating on a group chat during public comment.

“Specifically, Jansen was witnessed during the (May 16) board meeting on her phone on multiple occasions,” according to the court filing. “If those text messages were with other board members (including group texts with board members or others) or were with other individuals and in any way related to the business of the board those communications should be made public.”

The plaintiffs accuse the four of deliberating through private communications, which could be a violation of the Nevada Open Meeting Law.

According to the lawsuit, the parties have been seeking communications since the day after the May 16 school board meeting where the board voted to pursue policy dealing with transgender students.

Plaintiffs in the petition for a writ of mandamus are former Douglas County School Board Trustee Robbe Lehmann, former Douglas High principals Marty Swisher and Joe Girdner and parent Dean Miller.

The writ is seeking a court order that the district provide public records, along with fees and court costs. A second amended complaint was filed on Thursday.

Plaintiffs are also seeking an expedited hearing on the matter, which has been assigned to Department I District Judge Tod Young.

The plaintiffs were told by the district’s previous attorney that texts and emails related to the decision would be sent on July 31.

On July 19, that law firm was fired, and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert was hired. Gilbert told plaintiffs on Aug. 3 that Jansen and Burns didn’t find any related documents. The firm said they did not have legal custody or control of records sought in a July 26 records request.

According to the lawsuit, Dickerson complied with the request on June 9 and those emails included messages to both other trustees.

“Petitioners believe that Trustees Jansen, Burns, Dickerson and Englekirk continue to conduct the business of the Douglas County School Board on and through their private devices and servers, as they have in the past.”

Plaintiffs allege that Gilbert’s hiring was orchestrated behind the scenes in the first days of 2023.

According to the lawsuit, a public records request revealed written communications between the four school board trustees, including emails and texts from personal accounts, discussing the Jan. 10 selection of Jansen as president and Englekirk as vice president of the board.

“The documents provided in response to Jan. 11, 2023, NRS 239 public records request confirmed the suspicions of open meeting law violations and, worse, indicated the newly elected trustees … were subject to and perhaps controlled by outside political influences,” according to the lawsuit.

One of the emails obtained quoted Virginia Starrett saying she wasn’t happy about the possibility that Englekirk would be the new school board president.

“He caved on almost every single vote that would have mattered as he sat on the board,” Starrett said in an email. “He spoke highly of Keith L. (Superintendent Keith Lewis) and voted in all his raises.”

A reply from Jansen indicated that she was meeting with Englekirk and Burns.

Plaintiffs included a Jan. 4 list of topics from Nicholas Meier that included discussing board president strategy and hiring Gilbert.

At the May 16 meeting, the school board majority voted to explore implementing a policy regarding transgender students, which plaintiffs assert could result in litigation and possible sanctions from the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

Nevada’s open records law requires custodians of public records to either turn them over or give a legal reason why they were refusing.

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office confirmed that at least two open meeting law complaints were filed against the district over the course of the year.


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