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Top state court to take up Clark County school ballot initiative

Updated Friday, Aug. 31, 2012 | 9 a.m.

School district officials consider bond proposal

KSNV coverage of the Clark County School District considering a new bond that would help repair schools and increase taxes, April 12, 2012.

Rex Bell Elementary School

Principal Tim Adams of Rex Bell Elementary School checks out a roof leak on school grounds in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The Nevada Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge that would keep the Clark County School District from asking voters this fall to approve a $720 million ballot initiative to fund six years of renovations and replacements at some of the district's oldest and deteriorating schools.

The court, which is opening its fall term next week, has set an 11:30 a.m. Sept. 5 in Las Vegas of an appeal by the Nevada Policy research Institute to a ruling by Clark County District Judge Valorie Vega, who last week ruled the School District's "pay-as-you-go" measure could remain on the November ballot. Nevada Policy Research Institute alleges the Clark County Regional Debt Management Commission violated Nevada's open meeting law when it approved the School District's ballot language earlier this year.

Karen Gray, an employee of the research institute, said she was not given a chance to speak before the debt commission vote. The institute, a conservative think tank, and Gray say this violates the open meeting law, a charge the debt commission denies.

According to published reports, Clark County Commissioner Susan Barger, who was chairwoman of the debt committee at the meeting in question, said she made eye contact with Gray who was the only member of the public present.

Barger said she then asked if anyone had any questions or comments and added, "We don't want anyone to be stifled. Huh?"

Gray, in court depositions, says, however, that Barger looked at her and that there was "nonverbal action." She didn't understand that was to invite public comment. Public comment was permitted at the end of the meeting.

Vega declined to issue a preliminary injunction to keep the question from being presented to the voters while controversy of an open meeting violation is being decided.

Chief Justice Michael Cherry denied a motion by lawyers for the policy institute to delay the Wednesday hearing because of a scheduling conflict. The court set the hearing date last Friday and Cherry said it will go forward in Las Vegas at 11:30 a.m.

The Clark County Election Department said the issue must be resolved quickly because it was getting ready to print sample ballots and they must be sent out overseas by Sept. 21.

In denying the institute's motion for a preliminary injunction, Vega noted it waited 57 days after the meeting to file its petition. Vega said Brager's recollection of the events was backed by others.

Vega said even assuming a violation of the open meeting law occurred, the institute "failed to establish why that necessarily would prevent the public from voting on the ballot question in November."

CORRECTION: This corrects earlier versions that mischaracterized the ballot initiative and the proposed amount to be spent. | (August 31, 2012)

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