When Reindeer Lodge owner Gary Schmidt comes into an office in an agitated state, there is no doubt that Gary Schmidt is in an agitated state. Schmidt, who during the last few years has become a public-records activist to be reckoned with, had just come to the RN&R offices from Reno City Hall after being stymied in his pursuit of some public documents. He was agitated.
Regular readers will recognize Schmidt’s name. He’s the man who sued Washoe County over county employees’ refusal to give him documents to which he was legally entitled. Schmidt won in Washoe District Court and again before the Nevada Supreme Court.
In Nevada, public-document requests are covered under NRS 239. That law basically says that, unless there is a specific exception listed in state law, a record generated by a government employee is a public record. For sensitive documents, like the makes and models of police vehicles, there is a balancing test, which requires officials to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the public’s right to know.
The wealthy and litigious business owner was researching property on Fourth Street.
“I’m looking at Fourth Street as a potential strip entertainment center,” he said. “I think it’s an appropriate place for a sports center or an ice hockey rink.”
He says he made some innocuous requests at the business license office but was unilaterally denied. To make a long story short, he finally requested a copy of one of those must-be-displayed-in-a-prominent-place business licenses—the one that belongs to Harrah’s Casino. It is, Schmidt maintains, possibly the most public public document in the city of Reno’s care.
Schmidt, not one to take no for an answer, ended up at the City Attorney’s Office asking for help getting the records, but he received little satisfaction.
That’s when he came to the News & Review offices, in hopes of returning to City Hall with a reporter to document his attempts to get public records from the city of Reno. He went back with staff photographer David Robert.
“I’m a property and public-record rights advocate,” he said. “They go hand in hand. One of the ways government usurps your private-property rights is to deny your public-records requests. I’ve learned over the years, you’d better do some due diligence, and you’d better stay up on the issues [which requires public-record access].”
The pair said they were met by city officials who required identification of the photojournalist and had the businessman followed by security guards.
He left written requests for public documents with various offices and left without serious incident or the records he claims he was entitled to.
Three days later, Schmidt filed suit in the Washoe District Court against the city of Reno in regard to denial of public documents.
The city of Reno’s public information officer, Steve Frady, claimed little knowledge of the incident, but he did suggest a call to City Attorney Patricia Lynch’s office. He also hinted that she might be restrained in her comments because of the lawsuit. Assistant City Attorney Randall Edwards did return a call, but reached voice mail.
“I don’t get it,” Schmidt said. “Which part of the words ‘public servant’ don’t they understand? They think they are the public masters. They’re supposed to help us out, not hinder or obstruct us.”