Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Government Training

Last night, I walked down to City Hall to attend training on Nevada Government Ethics and the Nevada Open Meeting Law. I was a little uneasy about attending, given that I'm not actually an elected or appointed official, only an unsuccessful candidate for office, but I needn't have worried. First of all, turnout was not huge, and secondly, the Mayor said (when I offered to pay for some of the pizza on offer inasmuch as I wasn't an actual local official) that it was fine and not to fret about it. (I really did want to help pay for it, given that the Mayor had bought the pizza out of his own pocket to entice more people to attend, but he turned it down.)

There were people from the City Council, Fire Board, Pool Board, County and City Planning Commissions, and at least one local advisory committee whose name I didn't catch. It was broad coverage of most of Fernley's city bodies, and also at least one staff member, besides the Fernley City Attorney.

The opener was a few stories about how what one says in an actual official meeting is "privileged" in a legal sense, but that things said outside of meetings if you are some sort of public official can get you in trouble. For example, if you are a member of a local government board and start making public statements (or even private ones that are overheard) that could be interpreted as pre-judging issues that will come before your government agency, you open yourself and your agency to a lawsuit, and not just theoretically. The attorney giving the presentation gave several examples that cost local government agencies (and their insurance carriers) six-figure legal sums. In short, if you're on a board, you need to be circumspect about discussing issues upon which you could be expected to make decisions. (Note that members of the legislature are not subject to these same laws, but every level of local government is.)

Next we had the executive director of the Nevada State Ethics Commission who gave a talk on ethics in government bodies. There's was a lot of good material here, and I'm glad I got a copy of the handouts. I spoke to her afterwards, giving an example about how I'm a director of both SFSFC and of CanSMOF, and thus when one of those two non-profit corporations applies to the other for a grant or something, I recuse myself from voting on the decision, making it clear that my presence in the meeting is to advocate for the requesting body. While not precisely the same thing as avoiding self-dealing in a government body, the principle is the same.

Last was a discussion of Nevada's Open Meeting law, and we had a nice woman from the Attorney General's office with us. I was very impressed (and told her so after the training) with her obvious enthusiasm for the subject. We also had a bit of a discussion over how parliamentary procedure interacts with these laws. Robert's Rules of Order is not required by any government agency, although some boards have adopted them. She seemed interested in some of the examples I gave from WSFS, including explaining how the Chair can vote to create a tie, not just break it.

(Most people don't know that one, because the only example they have is of the US Vice President breaking ties in the Senate. Nevada similarly has the Lieutenant Governor, who can break ties in the state Senate, but can't make them. That's because in both of those cases, the officer in question is not actually a member of the lawmaking body, but stands outside of it. In general parliamentary law, the presiding officer is also a member of the body, but in larger bodies, only votes when their vote could affect the result.)

Note, by the way, that while there were enough members of many of the local bodies to make quorums for any of them, this gathering didn't violate the Open Meeting Law as it was considered a "non-meeting" — as long as none of the people there started discussing things they might have to consider in their roles as members of their respective boards and committees.

While attending the training meant that I lost a couple of hours of sleep, I found it useful and educational. Now the question is whether I'll ever get to put any of it into practice.
Tags: fernley, government, parliamentary procedure

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