Apparently, not even repeated losses before the state Supreme Court will make some government officials comply with the Silver State’s public records law.
It’s another example of why lawmakers need to add teeth to the Nevada Public Records Act.
In October, the Nevada Supreme Court reaffirmed that the public is entitled to information regarding taxpayer-funded pensions paid to government retirees.
Yet rather than accept the Court’s clear and well-reasoned decision, the PERS Board instead chose to extend the legal battle — at taxpayer expense — by voting 4-2 last month to file a petition for rehearing.
Rehearing petitions allow parties to ask the Court to reverse itself on the grounds that its previous ruling contained a significant error of fact or law.
“PERS conflates its dissatisfaction with the Court’s ruling with actually having a legitimate legal basis to petition for rehearing,” argues NPRI Policy Director Robert Fellner.
In the petition, the agency merely repeats the same meritless arguments they have made at every turn throughout this multi-year legal battle, rather than identifying any actual error of fact or law within the Court’s ruling.
However, while it is unlikely that the petition will succeed in convincing the Court to reverse itself, it has allowed PERS to, once again, delay production of the requested public records by several months.
“Despite having the most favorable outcome possible at every stage of the legal process, taxpayers are still unable to view the records first requested by Nevada Policy in 2015,” Fellner says.
The delay tactics used by PERS highlights just how prohibitive it is for the average citizen to enforce their rights under the law, according to Fellner.
“How many ordinary citizens can afford to engage in such a lengthy legal battle? Taxpayers wishing to understand how the government spends their money should not be forced to spend years in court just to get the government to comply with its own transparency law,” Fellner said.
It’s for this reason that lawmakers need to treat Nevada’s public records law the same as every other law and add penalties for those who choose to violate it.
Unfortunately, the lack of penalties for violating the public records law has created a culture in Nevada government where officials are often quick to deny a legitimate public records request.
It’s a problem that extends far beyond PERS.
- The Incline Village General Improvement District’s refused to provide its own Board Treasurer with copies of basic financial records.
- The Clark County School District (CCSD) denied a request for a copy of an employee directory.
- CCSD denied a request to provide information related to its decision to bar a school trustee from district property.
- CCSD refused to release any emails sent by a staff executive, claiming every single one of them contained confidential information.
- Metro denied to release records relating to the 1 October shooting — creating a level of secrecy and uncertainty that contributed significantly to the wild speculation and fearmongering that unfortunately followed the tragedy.
- The Washoe County School District hid a taxpayer-funded investigation regarding allegations of bullying and harassment within its special education department.
“And the list could go on and on,” says Fellner. “This trend is evidence of the pressing need for the Legislature to add teeth to Nevada’s open records law.”
Doing so, however, requires a legislative fix.
“Lawmakers must amend Nevada’s public records law to give courts the ability to hold government officials who violate the law personally liable for the requester’s fees,” explains Fellner.
“After all, what good is a law, if there is no penalty for ignoring it?”
For a complete chronology of the legal events and arguments regarding the ongoing PERS lawsuit, please click here.
And to learn more about Nevada Policy’s work on the importance of a transparent and accountable government, please click here.