(LAS VEGAS CBS KXNT) Open meeting law procedures were central to the Nevada Supreme Court’s mediation hearing on Wednesday of a lawsuit seeking to keep a property tax initiative off the ballot in Clark County.
The Court heard each side claim that the other had changed its story, massaging fine details in an episode involving the call for public comment during a meeting of the Clark County Debt Management Commission. The plaintiff claims the commission voted earlier this summer to approve the tax measure for the ballot without inviting public input.
The debate led Chief Justice Michael Cherry to ask whether the Court should resolve the open meeting law question before deciding whether to uphold the lower court’s denial of an injunction to the ballot question.
The county has argued that Commission Chair Susan Brager turned physically in her chair at the June 7 meeting, to acknowledge the lone civilian attendee seated at the periphery of the room, and inquired whether she had any questions. Brager and several others have given affidavits swearing that it was a gesture of inclusion, intended as a call for public comment. A district court has agreed that she did not breach the state’s open meeting law by failing to use the phrase “public comment.”
The citizen at that meeting was Karen Gray, who works as a researcher for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. The Clark County School District has accused Gray and NPRI of political motivations, based on the organization’s libertarian opposition to high taxes.
Attorney Joseph Becker, representing NPRI, has consistently maintained that the challenge isn’t political, and the law requires more clarity from public officials running an open meeting.
Intense focus has been placed on Brager’s words and body language during the meeting.
Attorney for the county Dan Poslenberg told the high Court NPRI has changed its story with each telling, and that its final version was a concession that yes, the chair did ask for public comment, but not until after the vote. Becker responded that the county also changed its representation, after an audio transcript was produced that called into question Brager’s intentions based on the words she used.
Becker claimed on Wednesday that Brager’s lack of precision raises questions, which led Polsenberg to call out that facts are still in question, meaning the Supreme Court can’t reverse the lower court decision. Polsenberg said District Court Judge Valorie Vega was correct in ruling that NPRI hadn’t produced sufficient evidence to win its case.
The Court adjourned without issuing an order, after securing agreement from NPRI that it might be possible to resolve the case in the lower court based on the documents already submitted, precluding the need for further briefs to be written. Friday is the deadline for printing the ballot.