A nonmeeting by any other name…
Acknowledging that there was probably a better name for it, Chief Deputy District Attorney Doug Ritchie said he’s probably going to stop calling sessions with Douglas County commissioners to discuss litigation or employee negotiations “nonmeetings.”
“They’re meetings, just not meetings defined under the open meeting law,” he said.
On Thursday, Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson said the grand jury was mistaken when they said the county is using the term to get around the open meeting law.
“The grand jury came to an erroneous conclusion,” he said. “While I appreciate the investigative work they’ve done, their findings are contrary to statutory law and former attorney general opinions.”
The issue, Jackson pointed out, is with the definition of meeting under state law.
Jackson said a meeting is either open or closed, except when it involves a public body meeting with an attorney to discuss litigation or employee negotiations.
“Although a meeting is indisputably occurring, it is not subject to the open meeting law,” he said. “The grand jury is not the only body to be confused. There is a great deal of uncertainty and doubt as to the application of the open meeting law.”
Jackson said that’s why then Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto convened a task force on the subject to propose changes to the law.
He said the right to confer with counsel in secret is one of the oldest guarantees in common law.
In October, he conferred with commissioners about the controllers to pay five invoices amounting to $15,000 in tires purchased by Chris Oakden.
“It was not noticed, there was no agenda and in complete compliance with the open meeting law,” he said. “When we discuss litigation, the holder of the privilege is the board, not me, not my deputies, and not any one individual.”
County Commissioner Dave Nelson said he felt transparency was the issue.
“I agree that every meeting we’ve ever had discussed litigation or negotiations,” he said. “But the citizens have a problem with it because of the secrecy. I’m for making a tape of that. I also think a privilege log should be kept where we post who attended the meeting, and what it was about. We have very few nonmeetings, but the public doesn’t know that.”
One new body under the open meeting law is the Douglas County Internal Audit Committee.
Douglas residents David Maxwell, Maureen Casey, Pamela Garber and Teresa Froncek Rankin were appointed by county commissioners on Thursday.
Nelson was appointed to be the board liaison to the committee.