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EDITORIAL: Nevada’s open records law and bad legal advice

Behind virtually every attempt by Nevada public officials to ignore this state’s open records law is dreadful legal advice. Efforts by the Lyon County School District to hide employee salaries from the taxpayers is one of the more egregious examples.

The government in Lyon County — population 61,000, county seat Yerington — has a history of trying to evade accountability. Nearly a decade ago, Lyon County commissioners refused to turn over information regarding deliberations on a 2013 land-use decision, arguing that requested emails and phone records could remain secret because they were stored on private rather than county-owned devices. The Nevada Supreme Court in 2018 shot down that ruse, unanimously ruling that public business conducted on personal cellphones or computers belonging to public officials is subject to disclosure.

Now it’s the Lyon County school system that seeks to break the law and avoid public scrutiny.

In March, Hope Loudon, a former school employee, requested data from the district regarding employee pay, job titles and hire dates. This information should be available under Chapter 239 of the Nevada Revised Statutes, which holds that “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied.”

The provision applies to all records except those specifically exempted by law. State statutes make no exception for public-sector salaries, nor should they. The taxpayers who fund the government have a right to know how much they’re paying those who carry out business on their behalf.

Yet instead of complying with Ms. Loudon’s request, officials at the Lyon County district skittered for the shadows. Ms. Loudon received a denial through a Reno law firm, likely paid with taxpayer dollars to defend this affront to those same taxpayers. According to Maupin, Cox &LeGoy, Nevada’s administrative code allows school officials to conceal salary information.

This is utter nonsense. Nowhere in the statutes does it provide for the administrative code to override state open records law.

The Lyon County School District has been led astray by legal advice intended to subvert rather than honor good government and the law. Unfortunately, that’s all too typical. Clark County, for instance, spent nearly six figures in recent years on a futile fight to keep autopsy reports from public view.

Too many state and local agencies remain allergic to the disinfectants of accountability and sunshine. The Lyon County School District’s intransigence — and similar instances — highlights the importance of strengthening the statute to mandate strict penalties for bureaucrats and bureaucracies that willfully flout the democratic principles embedded in open records law.

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