Community college presidents are not public officials, according to ruling by Nevada court

Las Vegas newspaper loses suit over access to executive searches

NEVADA -- The state supreme court ruled in March that the president of a community college is not a public officer and that at least parts of a college's presidential search may be conducted privately.

The decision came after The Las Vegas Review-Journal sued in September to prevent the Community College of Southern Nevada Board of Regents from privately interviewing presidential candidates. A district court issued an injunction in October stopping the private interviews.

The University and Community College System of Nevada then appealed to the state supreme court, which said presidents are not public officers and thus interviews may be private.

The majority opinion stated that "because the president is wholly subordinate and responsible to the board, and can only implement policies established by the board, we conclude that the community college president does not meet the statutory requisites of a public officer."

The three dissenting judges, however, said in a separate opinion that a community college president should be considered a public officer because the position was established by law, and "the position involves the continuous exercise of a public power and this exercise of public responsibility is part of a regular and permanent government administration."

Thomas Ray, general counsel for the community college system, said it was not the presidential searches the board of regents was most concerned about in the case, but the potential change to the relationship between the board of regents and the president. If the court had declared the president a public official, Ray said, the board would have less oversight over the president and reviews of the president by the board would be open to the public.

"Our biggest concern was evaluations of sitting presidents," Ray said. The evaluations are a "very personal thing" that have not been open in the past, he said.

Babette May-Herrmann, editor of the college's student newspaper, The Coyote Press, said system officials are starting the presidential search again and have hired an outside agency to help find candidates. She said she believes the president should be considered a public official.

"To me, he's a public official," she said. "He's not a private citizen."

reports, Spring 2001