You knew this was coming.
After the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in a Reno case that term limits mean a person can only serve 12 years — total — on certain local governing bodies, the question arose: What about Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen?
Haften, a longtime Henderson councilman, had reached his 12-year limit before he was re-elected as mayor in 2013. Under the logic of the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling, he was technically ineligible for the office.
Of course, no one knew that at the time.
But now, the man he defeated in that election — Rick Workman — is demanding Hafen resign from office under threat of legal action to remove him. (His lawyer is Stephanie R. Rice, the same attorney who successfully argued the Reno case.)
The city in a statement correctly notes that the court’s ruling said nothing about what should happen to an elected official who was duly elected and currently seated, but who’d served longer than 12 years in office. But it’s hard to imagine the court would distinguish the facts and law applicable to Hafen’s case differently than the facts and law applicable in Reno. If anything, the history and language in Reno’s city charter gave that city a stronger defense than Hafen has in Henderson.
And Workman is the person with the most standing to challenge Hafen; he can argue that but for Hafen’s improper inclusion on the 2013 ballot, he could have and perhaps would have won the race. (A more likely scenario, however, is the fact that a sitting member of the council would have entered the race had Hafen been term-limited, and that person would have won.)
Although Hafen couldn’t be reached by the Review-Journal for comment on his plans, it’s in his interests to fight Workman on this. There’s an outside chance courts could decide that the interpretation articulated in the Reno case should only apply prospectively, and that Hafen should be allowed to finish his current term. There’s also an element of practicality here; if the courts rule Hafen was ineligible, does that mean his actions since re-election are void? Would votes have to be re-cast in light of his alleged ineligibility? Throwing him out of office mid-term would also cost the residents of Henderson, as a replacement would have to be elected as well.
Ah, term limits. The gift of chaos that keeps on giving.