Citizen activists urge committee not to weaken open meeting law bill

Citizen activists on Wednesday urged the Government Affairs Committee not to adopt amendments they say would weaken a bill designed to expand public comment at governmental meetings.

Assembly Bill 257 was originally written to require that public bodies offer public comment at the start and conclusion of board and commission meetings - plus the opportunity for citizens to comment on each action item before it is voted on during the meeting.

But the sponsor, Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, said at the outset of the hearing he wanted to amend the measure to remove the requirement for public comment before each action item is voted on.

"There would be no public comment in the middle of the meeting," he said.

He said AB257 still would be an improvement because it provides public comment at the start and finish of a meeting, but wouldn't lengthen meetings by having numerous comment periods. He said he brought the measure because some bodies aren't accepting comment from the public.

"There are a lot of problems with some of the smaller boards," he said adding they only allow comment at the end of the meeting, which can require citizens to wait hours before getting to speak. "A lot of school boards are not allowing the public to address the board."

Gardnerville resident Jim Slade objected to the amendment saying the public should be allowed to testify on all items before they are voted on.

"The open meeting law is not intended to keep meetings short or ensure members get home in time to watch the next episode of 'Dancing with the Stars,'" he said.

Slade said people should be able to comment on each action item before a board, council or commission during the debate on that item, not wait until after the vote is completed.

Gary Schmidt of Reno argued the bill should mandate an open public comment period at both the start and finish of a a meeting as well as on every action item and that the elected members should welcome that participation.

"What do our elected officials have to do that's more important than the public business?" he asked.

He said some boards like the Reno and Sparks city councils occasionally "abuse their discretion."

"When you have 50 people who want to speak, it's because there's a problem and they (the elected members) ought to listen to them," he said.

The committee took no action on the measure.쇓


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