The attorney general’s office is investigating an open meeting law complaint filed recently against the City Council by a former member in regards to actions taken at the Oct. 22 meeting.
Former Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt filed the complaint Dec. 18 about an item kept on the agenda by the council that City Attorney Steve Morris had warned could be a violation.
“The city recently received a complaint filed in the Nevada attorney general’s office,” Communications Manager Lisa LaPlante wrote in an email. “The complaint alleges an open meeting law violation during the Oct. 22, 2019, meeting. The city has until Jan. 23, 2020, to respond. It is our intention to cooperate with the attorney general’s inquiry.”
The item was for the discussion and a possible staff directive about hiring an outside attorney to review and advise council members on Nevada’s open meeting law; the employment contracts of the city attorney, city clerk, city manager and municipal judge; and other issues as determined by a majority of the council.
Leavitt wrote in the complaint that she believed, in their capacity as council members, Mayor Kiernan McManus, Councilwoman Tracy Folda and Councilwoman Claudia Bridges all violated the open meeting law. According to the complaint, Leavitt wrote that McManus’ violation was blatant and willful, Folda’s was possibly willfull and Bridges’ was just a violation.
Councilman James Howard Adams was not mentioned.
When asked about the complaint, Leavitt said she would not comment because it is an ongoing investigation.
At the start of the Oct. 22 meeting, Morris recommended the item be removed from the agenda because he said it lacked the specificity required and that the council could face an open meeting law violation because of that. The meeting packet also included two emails from Morris to McManus warning of the potential violation.
McManus said he disagreed with Morris and would not remove the item from the agenda.
“I’ve requested item 18,” he said at that time. “I have spelled out my reasoning for doing so. I will go into further detail on that as we get into that item tonight and therefore will not be removing the item from the agenda.”
The lack of specificity pointed out by Morris and several residents during public comment was a key element of Leavitt’s complaint.
The council approved keeping the item on the agenda by a 3-1 vote, with Adams voting against it. Bridges said she did not vote to remove the item from the agenda because she wanted to express her opinions about it.
During the deliberation, McManus said, “I think you have a substantial conflict of interest by weighing in on an issue that has regards to your contract for employment. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going forward with this and not taking your recommendation as far as removing the item.”
He also said he believed Morris should have recused himself because of that conflict of interest.
However, during the council’s deliberation of the agenda item, McManus withdrew any discussion about “other issues” because of concerns about its vagueness.
Outside counsel sought
At the meeting, McManus said he thought special counsel should be hired so that council members could have more legal advice about the open meeting law, as well as a third party to look at the employment contracts.
Folda agreed with McManus about the need to retain special counsel because the city attorney was unable to perform his duty when reviewing his own contract.
Bridges said she did not believe there was a need for special counsel to be hired and that she trusted city staff.
Adams did not comment during the discussion.
The vote ended in a tie, with Adams and Bridges voting against and McManus and Folda voting for it. Since it was a tie, the motion died.
Leavitt was first elected to the council in 2011 and served two terms.
Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.