COLUMN: Luna opening its doors

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By David Giuliani

At one time, the Luna Community College Board of Trustees spent most of its time behind closed doors. Such secrecy created much suspicion — and rightfully so.

These days, the board doesn’t hold closed meetings. I can’t remember the last time it had one.

That’s probably because of the new president, Pete Campos. I’m glad he convinced the board that nearly all of the college’s public business should be discussed in the open.

The state Open Meetings Act requires that a quorum of the members of a governing body should discuss their business in the light of day. That way citizens can watch their government in action.

For a long time, Luna’s trustees seemed to prefer closing their doors. And they would often do so in the middle of their meetings, kicking staffers and residents out of the meeting room and making them wait for more than an hour outside — pretty much a slap in the face.

Last year, former Luna President Lawrence Pino revealed that the trustees often talked about public business behind closed doors, violating the Open Meetings Act. And two years ago, then-college Attorney Jesus Lopez resigned in protest, accusing the board of a “penchant for secrecy.”

To his credit, Campos recognized that this was a problem. So he apparently inspired the board to just not hold any closed meetings. And for the record, not one other governing body in the area can claim to have adopted such a practice.

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Last week, the City Council held a closed session about water litigation and personnel matters, which lasted more than an hour and a half. The officials moved their closed session to the city manager’s office, which is on the other side of City Hall from the council’s chambers.

Rather than sit in the chambers, I decided to wait in the lobby outside the manager’s office. No one told me I couldn’t, so I did. In so doing, I figured I could see the expressions on people’s faces as they emerged from the secret meeting. And while I couldn’t make out most of their words, I could gauge the council members’ emotions by the tones of their voices.  

I can report one thing to the public: There wasn’t any shouting during the meeting. Near the end of the closed session, Utilities Director Ken Garcia went to the lobby and found me sitting there. He politely told me to leave. I complied. As one old reporter told me more than a decade ago when he was kicked out of a meeting, “I’ve been kicked out of better places.”

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As I have stated in this column before, the Optic has formally requested all of the e-mails involving a quorum of City Council members. The city responded that it could find no such e-mails. But we later were supplied the documents by another source, and we ran a story about them. That irritated City Attorney Carlos Quiñones, who then promptly wrote a memo requesting council members keep such e-mails a secret.

Of course, we vehemently disagree that such e-mails should be kept in the dark. They were in violation of the Open Meetings Act, and many of them had to be on the city’s server because city staffers often received copies. Quiñones himself was copied on many of them.

Quiñones hasn’t responded to our calls about the e-mails, but I saw him shortly before a recent council meeting. He was coming down a hallway, and he had no other way out. (Hey, we reporters have to track down our sources some way.) I asked him about the e-mails. He said we were “full of (expletive)” in our assertion that he has given tacit approval for the e-mails. In fact, he said, he had tried to stop the practice. If that was the case, then why did he allow so many?

Quiñones refused to answer that question. Whatever happened to the mayor’s promise of transparency in city government?

It sure would be nice if Quiñones would promote openness instead of pushing secrecy in, well, secret memos.

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or by e-mail to dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.