INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Ted Fuller has been warned: Violate Nevada Open Meeting Law again, and face legal action from the Nevada Attorney General.
Actions by Fuller, who chairs the Incline Village General Improvement District Board of Trustees, during board meetings earlier this year led to “blatant violations” of the law, according to a pair of opinions filed last week by George H. Taylor, a senior deputy attorney general.
The opinions were in response to three Open Meeting Law complaints filed by local residents Frank Wright, Aaron Katz and Paul Olson. All are affiliated with The Village People and are frequent attendees of IVGID meetings who often stand up to speak during public comment.
According to a Monday, Nov. 21, ruling, Fuller violated Open Meeting Law by cutting off a pair of Wright's comments during the July 27 board meeting, due to an addition Fuller announced to the meeting's public comment rules. Fuller said people during previous board meetings had made “grandiose and exaggerated statements about certain circumstances within our community, and they're not true, just flat not true,” and “from now on, as far as I'm concerned, I will question the individual facts before I let (comments) go any further.”
Later in the meeting, according to the ruling, Fuller cut off Wright during two separate public comments, saying he would not allow untrue statements, nor personal attacks against district staff.
The first comment was cut off after Wright said “the public can come here and ski usually for cheaper than the residents can ski,” according to the ruling's summary. The second comment regarded General Manager Bill Horn's use of the word “transparency” in a recent North Lake Tahoe Bonanza article.
“Mr. Fuller's oral addition to IVGID's agenda public comment notice resulted in blatant violations of Mr. Wright's constitutional right to liberty of speech,” Taylor wrote in the opinion.
According to the ruling, Fuller replied in a written statement that his intent with the oral addition was to require factual accuracy by members of the public and district staff and trustees.
In the ruling, Taylor cites the Nevada Constitution and the section regarding “Liberty of speech and the press,” which indicates that public statements that are untrue and/or defaming are OK, so long as they are uttered or published “with good motives and for justifiable ends.”
Taylor also pointed to the district's published comment rules, which indicate that speaking time is “limited to three minutes and may be shortened at the discretion of the Chair.”
“While it is the chairperson's responsibility and right to run an orderly meeting ... any discretion exercised to shorten the speaking time must not be arbitrary, and must not transgress the speaker's First Amendment rights ...” Taylor wrote. “... We are convinced the Chair's decision to shorten Mr. Wright's three minutes of public comment was solely based on the viewpoint of Mr. Wright's comments.”
Last Tuesday, Taylor issued a similar ruling in response to separate complaints filed by Katz and Olson.
According to the opinion, Katz spoke during the second round of public comment at the Aug. 10 board meeting for 2 minutes, 14 seconds before being cut off by Fuller, who said his time was up. Katz disagreed, saying his three minutes had not expired, but Fuller did not allow him to continue. Furthermore, Olson offered three minutes of his time to Katz, “but Mr. Fuller did not allow it,” according to Taylor's ruling, although Olson was allowed to use his three minutes to make a general public comment.
Katz was cut off, according to the ruling, when he alleged that then-IVGID Finance, Accounting and Information Technology Director Ramona Cruz had improperly used an IVGID-issued credit card to enter the July 31 Incline Village Relay for Life, referring to it as “theft.”
In a written statement to the Attorney General's office, Fuller said he chose to cut off Katz's comment because he “routinely and viciously attacked District staff members by name,” according to the ruling, and that Katz “had been asked to refrain from making personal attacks.” Fuller also said the “theft” characterization was “inaccurate and only represents Katz's opinion.”
According to the ruling, neither “Fuller nor anyone else rebutted Mr. Katz's allegations regarding theft and other ethical violations following his public comment.” It also said that “other board members can be heard on the audio berating Mr. Katz for attacking Ms. Cruz.”
“It seems apparent ... that Mr. Fuller's decision to shorten Mr. Katz's three minutes of public comment was solely based on his disagreement with Mr. Katz's views that Ms. Cruz's actions were illegal,” Taylor wrote in the ruling. “Applicable legal authorities clearly forbid restriction of public comment based solely on viewpoint.”
Taylor continued: “Mr. Katz's comment was perhaps offensive, but the meeting was not disrupted until Chairman Fuller stopped Mr. Katz. There was no reasonable basis for doing so.”