Nevada AG: Washoe school board broke open meeting law

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada's attorney general has concluded the Washoe County School Board broke the state's Open Meeting Law again when it first attempted to hire a new school superintendent last spring.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt and the school district said in separate statements late Tuesday that they've reached a settlement agreement that suspends a $500 civil fine as long as the panel doesn't violate the law again for a year.

Laxalt said the board acted illegally when it voted to hire Traci Davis to replace former superintendent Pedro Martinez without public notice on its agenda for the March 24 meeting.

"The trustees should have recognized and obeyed the fundamental principle of the Open Meeting Law," the attorney general's office said. "There can be no action taken unless it appears on the agenda."

The board rescinded Davis' hire hours later but rescheduled a vote and formalized the decision a month later.

The attorney general's office launched a 10-month investigation based on a complaint by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In the settlement, the school board acknowledged that all seven of its members violated the Open Meeting Law by participating in the March 24 vote, even though two of them opposed the vote. Board members Nick Smith and Veronica Frenkel voted against Davis' hire, requesting more time for consideration and public notice.

Board member Nick Smith defended the panel's action.

"We never said we didn't break the Open Meeting Law," he told the Gazette-Journal.

The school board has a history plagued with Open Meeting Law violations, which the attorney general's office noted in its findings.

In July 2014, the school board attempted to fire then-Superintendent Pedro Martinez in a closed meeting without a proper agenda or notice. In that instance, the attorney general's office fined six board members $1,500.

The board's attempted firing in 2014 also resulted in a bitter legal battle ending with a $700,000 settlement paid to Martinez to resign.

The school district's legal team said the settlement would help avoid a potentially protracted and expensive legal battle.

"Although we believe that the section of the Open Meeting Law used by the Board to rescind the vote during the same meeting bars prosecution, we felt it was in the best interests of the board, the district, and the priority of educating students to put this behind us and accept the agreement," said Neil Rombardo, the panel's chief legal counsel.

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