Pahrump to vote on role of town board


Less than a month after some disgruntled constituents tried to arrest them at a public meeting, Pahrump Town Board members find themselves under a different kind of threat: demotion.

Voters in the Nye County town 60 miles west of Las Vegas will go to the polls in November to decide whether to get rid of the elected panel and replace it with an appointed advisory board with almost no authority.

The Nye County Commission approved the ballot measure Tuesday in a surprise, unanimous vote.

When a similar motion came up last year, all but one of the commissioners voted against it.

Joni Eastley is one of the commissioners who changed her mind this time.

She said she switched sides after reading comments from Pahrump Town Board Chairwoman Vicky Parker, who claimed publicly that the county just wanted to get rid of the more fiscally responsible town government and grab its cash.

"That infuriated me," Eastley said.

But don't call this a recall effort. It's more like wholesale replacement. Instead of an elected board capable of passing town ordinances and spending public money, Pahrump would downgrade to an advisory board that could do little more than make recommendations to the County Commission.

Parker doesn't think voters will go for it, but she sees no harm in asking.

"I don't have a problem with (the commissioners) putting it on the ballot and letting people vote on it," the town board chairwoman said. "I just didn't like the way it was handled. I'm disappointed they decided to do this without talking to us first."

It's not hard to see why Parker, who also happens to be up for re-election in November, said she feels like she is "under attack" these days.

At the board's June 12 meeting, a group of disgruntled Republicans tried to arrest her and two other board members after they voted to repeal a town ordinance meant to complicate the process of incorporation.

The amateur police action fizzled when the Nye County Sheriff's Office refused to take the three board members into custody.

Bill Carns, chairman of the Nye County Republican Central Committee, led last month's attempt at a citizen's arrest. He would be more than happy to see the town board voted out of existence.

In a statement, he said that over the past two years the board has shown "a pattern of contemptuous behavior" by voting against the wishes of residents, limiting their free speech, raising their taxes and misspending their money.

Parker rebuts all that. She also argues that town board members have "very little power" as it is. Basically, she said, they are responsible for four things: the swimming pool, the cemetery, the parks and the fire department.

The Pahrump Valley Fire-Rescue Service is the only paid municipal fire department in Nye County. Everyone else is served by volunteer firefighters and medics.

"I would hate to lose our professional fire department. That would be a big loss," Parker said. "We have a lot of elderly here and a lot of calls for ambulance service."

Pahrump is home to about 37,000 people, roughly 83 percent of Nye County's total population. Because of redistricting, the town soon will account for four of the five county commissioners.

There is some confusion about what exactly the November ballot measure might do. Parker thinks it is merely an advisory question that could inform future action by the county commission.

Eastley said it is her understanding that if Pahrump residents vote to dissolve the board, the board is dissolved.

Nye County District Attorney and longtime Pahrump resident Brian Kunzi said there is nothing advisory about the question.

"It is absolutely binding," he said.

But Kunzi thinks the issue is already generating more controversy than it should. He considers it a referendum on efficiency, not personality.

"I think there's a lot of hysteria that's unwarranted. This is about what is the best form of government, not whether this is a bad town board," he said. "The question is: Is one governing body better than two?"

If Pahrump residents do decide to jettison their elected board, it won't happen right away. Kunzi said the town board would live on for at least two more years while its members serve out their elected terms as required by state law.

As for the town's fire department, he said it wouldn't go away, "the county commission would just control it."

Eastley won't get to vote on the future of government in Pahrump because she doesn't live there. Her home is in the county seat of Tonopah, 165 miles away.

But that won't stop her from telling people what she thinks.

Eastley said her change of heart about the ballot measure comes with a warning to voters in Pahrump: Be careful what you wish for.

"The town board members you hate today could become the county commissioners of tomorrow," she said. "If all you have is a town advisory board, there will be no buffer."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

 

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