CARSON CITY — A Reno attorney who represents the state Tax Commission contends that recent changes to the open meeting law support his view that the group violated no law in awarding a $40 million tax rebate to Southern California Edison.
Thomas “Spike” Wilson filed a motion Friday with the state Supreme Court in which he maintained that the only change to the open meeting law made by Assembly Bill 433 was that the commission must have “the definitive vote” on taxpayer appeals in a session open to the public.
Wilson said that under the modified law, which takes effect July 1, the commission will be able to continue taking straw votes when a taxpayer requests a refund during closed meetings.
He said the changes that are being made to the law bolster his contention that the commission did not violate the prior version of the law during a May 2005 closed meeting in which Southern California Edison received the tax rebate. The company operates an electrical power plant in Laughlin.
The circumstances of the Edison rebate led the attorney general’s office to file a lawsuit alleging that the commission breached the open meeting law in the Edison hearing. A district judge found in favor of the Tax Commission. The attorney general’s office then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Carson City District Attorney Neil Rombardo, who as a deputy attorney general brought the case against the commission, said that Wilson is wrong.
“I am shocked by what he is saying,” Rombardo said Wednesday. “I am very concerned that millions of dollars can be handed out in closed meetings.”
Rombardo said the appeal by Southern California Edison was listed on the agenda for the 2005 public meeting, but members went behind closed doors, deliberated and voted. Commission members then announced that Southern California Edison had prevailed but did not give a dollar amount or the reasons for their votes.
A separate lawsuit filed by the Clark County government also challenges the award. That lawsuit is pending in District Court.
Keith Marcher, the deputy attorney general handling the Edison rebate case, said he has filed a motion with the Nevada Supreme Court asking the justices to reject Wilson’s motion.
Marcher said that when the new open meeting law takes effect, the attorney general’s office will advise the Tax Commission on how it must handle future requests by taxpayers for closed meetings.
Barry Smith, the Nevada Press Association executive director, said he is disappointed that the commission’s attorney is “arguing for closed meetings.” Smith testified for the bill during the legislative session.
The bill was introduced by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, because of reports about the commission’s closed meeting and the refund to Southern California Edison.
Under the law, the Tax Commission can go into closed session only if a taxpayer requests such a meeting and only “to receive proprietary or confidential information.”
Under the new law, after receiving such information, the commission must reopen the hearing to the public. The law requires the vote on an appeal to be a public one. Within 45 days of a decision, the commission will have to prepare a statement naming the taxpayer, the amount of liability and the basis for the commission members’ decision.