19 March 2012

Disband Carter Lake Advisory Group

Due to personal concerns regarding the Carter Lake Advisory group and its regular meetings in secret, an email was sent to the Nebraska Attorney General office to get a legal perspective.

A response was recently received from the Director of Constituent Services, which said:

"Nebraska’s Open Meetings Act applies to governing bodies of all political subdivisions of the State, including state agencies, boards and commissions. However, they do not govern the meetings of non-profit organizations.

This reply might indicate that the CLAG does not have to adhere to the OMA, but this reply actually indicates just the opposite.

It is a false premise that because the CLAG is non-profit the Act does not apply. The Act applies to a myriad of other non-profit groups...

  • Niobrara Council: this non-profit advisory group has meeting notices in the area newspapers and also sends out emails with the same details; minutes are published on the council webpage and summaries are given in the area newspapers.
  • Nebraska Environmental Trust: a non-profit group which allows anyone to attend the regular meetings announcing decisions on the grants being provided funds.
  • Nebraska natural resource districts: monthly meetings are open to the public, with a notice of the meeting place, date and time given in the local newspapers.
  • City of Omaha: this is a non-profit entity and the city council has their meetings on television!

It is not a valid argument to say that the Act does not apply to one group, when numerous other with a similar status ensure they follow the provisions of the Act.

Other than an intermittent public meeting, the separate group on meeting are not announced to the public, so they are held in secret. Also there is no information given anywhere, including the project website, of the meeting minutes.

"Under § 84-1409(2), meetings, for purposes of the open meetings statutes, are defined as "all regular, special, or called meetings, formal or informal, of any public body for the purposes of briefing, discussion of public business, formation of tentative policy, or the taking of any action of the public body." — Nebraska Attorney General

This certainly applies to the actions of the CLAG. It also appears that there are legal options possible that would make any group actions void (i.e., the selection of a contractor):

"1. Any motion, resolution, rule, ordinance, or formal action of a public body made or taken in violation of the public meetings statutes shall be declared void by the district court if the suit is commenced within 120 days of the meeting of the public body at which the alleged violation occurred. Any such motion or other action taken in substantial violation of the public meeting statutes shall be voidable by the district court if the suit is commenced after more than 120 days but within one year of the meeting of the public body in which the alleged violation occurred. A suit to void any final action shall be commenced within one year of the action." — Nebraska Attorney General

There is also the option of legal actions against the members...

"Section 84-1414(4) provides that any member of a public body who knowingly violates or conspires to violate the Open Meetings Act, or who attends or remains at a meeting knowing that the public body is in violation of any provision of that Act, shall be guilty of a Class IV misdemeanor for a first offense, and a Class III misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense."

The Carter Lake Advisory Team does not provide public information to the public in a suitable manner. Instead decisions are made by a group of public officials and then given to the public at meetings, after decisions are seemingly already made. The group also does not allow open dialog and and common discussion at the occasional public meetings. Comments or questions are allowed only person-to-person, not in a common forum.

The Carter Lake Advisory Group should be disbanded immediately as it has either violated the Open Meeting Act or the intent of the Act.

Details of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act can be found online.