Records lawsuit only half the equation

Last week’s settlement of a lawsuit over records sought from four Douglas County School Board trustees was pretty clearly a victory for the plaintiffs.

Under Nevada’s records law, the burden of proof is on the record-holder that a requested record is not covered. In the case of the school board trustees, records from the first month of 2022 were obtained by the folks who would eventually sue in August.

Those emails and texts show fairly plainly that the school board majority was colluding outside of public view on their agenda for the coming year.

As the year wore on, more and more people would note that during much of public comment, those trustees were on their phones. It’s possible they were checking in with family or looking something up, but it was suspected they were communicating about the matter at hand.

That prompted another request for records in May, which the four trustees, Susan Jansen, David Burns, Katherine Dickerson and Doug Englekirk literally swore they didn’t have.

The firing of the district’s attorney and hiring of Joey Gilbert contributed to the confusion in the background, but after waiting four months, the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in August.

After last week’s settlement, we may get a look at what those records reveal and whether trustees were indeed violating the Nevada Open Meeting Law.

But we fear that won’t mean much. Looking back over the open meeting law opinions filed by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office during 2023 and 2024 only one was about the Douglas County School Board. That opinion was in response to complaints in late 2021 over the previous board’s decision to stop talking about critical race theory.

Coincidentally, the opinion clearing the school board of that open meeting law complaint was issued Aug. 14, 2023, days after the records lawsuit was filed and 20 months after the complaints were made.

No opinion has been issued in response to open meeting law complaints made in February 2023 regarding the school board’s actions, despite the inclusion of all those texts and emails obtained through the records request.

For the most part, we believe our elected officials accept their roles in maintaining transparency, even if they don’t always embrace them. However, unless someone is willing to take them to court, it appears that enforcing both Nevada’s open meeting and open records laws is not getting the attention statute requires.


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