Mesquite Regional Business, Inc., the non-profit organization on contract with the City of Mesquite to provide economic development services, is a public body and subject to the Nevada Open Meeting Law.
City Liaison Officer Aaron Baker notified local media on Feb. 14 about the Nevada Attorney General opinion that the organization should adhere to the rules of the open-meeting law..
“The city is reviewing the opinion,” he said in the email announcement. “The city has no further comment at this time but may in the future.”
Nor did Gaye Stockman, CEO of the 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, have any comment to make as the organization also digests the opinion.
But John Williams, the person who filed the open-meeting law complaint with the attorney general’s office had plenty to say. And he has the platform to be heard: the “Let’s Talk Mesquite” website that he co-owns with several other local residents.
Williams, on Feb. 14, posted “Let’s talk about MRBI (Mesquite Regional Business, Inc.,) and a huge legal victory for transparency.”
It was not a Valentine’s Day message to the organization.
“Yesterday the Nevada Attorney General’s office spoke loud and clear, and they struck a huge blow for transparency,” Williams wrote. “After many months of gathering evidence, analyzing the law, and performing diligent research, the Nevada Attorney General’s office agreed with many of us who believe that the use of taxpayer money should not be a secret known only by a few in a room with closed doors…”
Williams calls himself “a fierce advocate for transparency in government and corporate matters where decisions about the uses of “other peoples money” is concerned.”
Since MRBI and the city agreed to a contract in October 2012, Williams has been a vociferous critic of the organization, its relationship with the city, its hiring, it’s lack of public information about its spending and the insistence of the board of directors, its staff and city officials that it was a private company and not subject to Nevada’s Open Meeting Law.
“The ruling directly contradicts the statements by some MRBI principals that MRBI is a ‘private company’ and is not subject to the open meeting laws of the State of Nevada,” he wrote.
Williams sited several passages out of the Nevada Attorney General’s 17-page opinion.
The standard of judgment used in the decision was if MRBI was the equivalent of a public body. Williams quoted the opinion as saying “after balancing the totality of factors we believe MRBI is the functional equivalent of a public agency.”
The report noted “MRBI performs an advisory function to the Mesquite City Council” and “it performs a government function previously carried out within City Government by City Employees.”
The opinion also noted the “council’s level of funding for MRBI is almost total.”
The opinion also added that the “right of the public to analyze the expenditure of public funds and to protect the public’s right to scrutinize the manner in which MRBI conducts business is at stake.”
In his Feb. 14 post, Williams added that, “This ruling also begs further questions about the positions taken by the city and its city attorney and the questions regarding the open bidding requirements of the State of Nevada.”
But the Nevada Attorney General’s opinion did not address either issue.
Williams claims the contract for a private firm to take over economic development services for the city should have been put out to bid and awarded to an experienced firm and not a start-up needing taxpaper funding.
Williams also has been critical of City Attorney Cheryl Hunt advising the council not to discuss MRBI while the attorney general investigated William’s charges.
Now that the investigation is over and the opinion issued, one city councilman has broken that voluntary silence, that Williams has called a “gag order.”
Responding to another post critical of the city and MRBI, Councilman Al Litman said, “I am hoping all of this will come before the council on the 25th, our next meeting.”
Litman suggested there are several options for the city to consider and they should be discussed in public.
“I am not keeping anything under wraps as the AG’s opinion is out there for anyone to see. I would not vote to formally appeal the decision as it would cost taxpayers money.”
Litman said he wants to hear from MRBI directly before he would say more.
“I know it sounds easy to just drop them, but there is a legal contract in place that would need to be reviewed and perhaps other solutions to the problem that currently exists,” he added.
But he noted the attorney general’s opinion did not say there was anything wrong with MRBI or its relationship with the city. The opinion only stated that the MRBI board must follow the Nevada Open Meeting Law whenever it meets as a quorum.
“I am a firm believer in the laws whether I like them or not, and speaking just for myself, I would do what the AG says. I can’t speak for the MBRI and am waiting to see what they do next. As to the discussion about the effectiveness of the MBRI or the city in economic development I am willing to hear any solutions and suggestions that make sense and are viable,” he said.
There was no mention of Mesquite Regional Business, Inc., on the agenda for Tuesday’s (Feb. 18) Technical Review Meeting, which sets and discusses the agenda for the following week’s Mesquite City Council meeting. The agenda for that meeting was issued Thursday, but too late to meet the newspaper deadline.