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Email from county commissioner draws criticism

The discussion over a proposed Clark County arts fund began publicly.

But an internal email sent this week among commissioners seems to further the dialogue outside of the public realm by offering suggestions and answering questions from a previous meeting.

One commissioner who received the email thinks it could violate the state’s open meeting law, as commissioners are not allowed to deliberate toward a vote or build a consensus on an agenda item outside a public meeting.

And the district attorney’s office got involved.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who sent the email Tuesday to her fellow commissioners and their assistants, said she doesn’t think she violated the law. She said she has emailed her colleagues before to share information.

"You cannot have a majority come to a conclusion of how they’re going to vote," she said in explaining the law Thursday. "I don’t know where any of my colleagues stand on this issue."

In her email, Giunchigliani wrote she hoped for her colleagues’ support. But she never asked them to vote in a specific way.

"I would like to suggest that we set a local hire preference so that we select artists in Nevada as best as possible," Giunchigliani wrote. "I am suggesting we say something like not less than 60% of the revenue be allocated for Nevada artists. This allows us to recognize that some commissioned work may need to (come) from out of state but at least we encourage a specific amount. I would appreciate your thoughts on this as well as the percentage."

Asking for feedback could be considered a gray area where the law is concerned.

Hours later, Commissioner Steve Sisolak replied to the email.

"Please be advised that I would appreciate not being copied on any further emails relating to this issue as I feel this correspondence is outside of a public meeting and potentially in violation of Nevada’s open meeting law," he wrote.

Sisolak finished by saying he forwarded a copy of the email to the district attorney’s office for review.

"Where this becomes a violation is when it’s posted, you’re (the public) entitled to know what our decision is based upon," Sisolak said Thursday. "If one board member is communicating more information that you don’t get to see, that’s a violation."

After a reporter asked questions Thursday, county officials posted Giunchigliani’s email online as part of the background information included with the agenda item.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we are adding the email to the backup for the agenda item," county spokesman Erik Pappa said.

After reviewing the email, Trevor Hayes, a media law attorney, said the county’s self-imposed cure should alleviate any concerns.

Commissioners can be briefed, attend social gatherings and sit in on presentations together without violating the law.

"My concern is once it goes on the agenda, the public has a right to know how we reach our conclusion," Sisolak said. "If it’s done through emails, how can anybody see?"

Commissioners weighed in two weeks ago on where the proposed arts fund money would come from and how it would be spent.

The conversation is scheduled to continue next week, when commissioners grapple with the issue during a public hearing.

Commissioner Tom Collins said asking for direction by email is "no different than going into a closed door session and asking for direction."

"There’s no intent other than to help the process not be bogged down," Collins said. "(Giunchigliani) is not asking for comments and opinions. She’s not asking for a vote or what will convince someone to vote yes or no."

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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