Term-limits ruling prompts request for Henderson mayor’s resignation

Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen is being asked to resign by the candidate who finished second in last year’s election and who cites a recent state Supreme Court ruling on a Reno term limits case.

Rick Workman, through his attorney, sent a letter to City Attorney Josh Reid on Wednesday stating Hafen “fails to meet the qualifications to remain seated” as mayor.

He wants Hafen to “voluntarily step down from his position” to “avoid the costs and publicity associated with a formal removal proceeding” which could involve legal action. The letter asks for Hafen to respond by Monday.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 20 ruled by a 5-2 margin that term limit provisions in state law mean that members of the Reno City Council who already have served 12 years under the restrictions cannot run for mayor. The court on March 5 denied a request by a potential Reno mayoral candidate to reconsider its ruling.

In a statement released Thursday morning, the city said Hafen was elected to serve in his current capacity by the voters of Henderson and any change to that status cannot be made by the city.

“It must be done through the legal system as prescribed by state law,” the statement read.

However, the city contends that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling “addressed the issue of a city council member’s eligibility to file as a candidate for the office of mayor and was silent regarding any application to a duly elected and currently seated mayor who was elected prior to the court’s decision.”

The city also stated any legal battle would be Hafen’s and “the only involvement the city would have would be to determine the process to fill a vacancy should one occur. However, until a decision is made by the courts, the city will continue to operate under its current structure. We do not have the ability to take any action until such time as we receive direction from the courts.”

Hafen did not return multiple requests for comment. However, after the Reno ruling, Hafen said on Feb. 20 that he believed “People throughout the state” were disappointed with the court’s ruling.

“I was as surprised by the decision as everyone else, but I can’t let that deter me from doing the work I was elected to do,” Hafen said then.

Workman’s attorney, Reno-based Stephanie R. Rice, said she believes the standard should apply to Hafen. He has served on the City Council since 1987 and as mayor since 2009, winning re-election last year.

“Mayor Hafen’s prohibition to further serve as Mayor in excess of the constitutionally permitted term limits constitutes sufficient legal cause for removal,” Rice wrote in the letter.

Workman declined to comment, referring all inquiries to Rice.

Rice represented George “Eddie” Lorton, who filed the successful lawsuit that argued that Reno council members who have been in office 12 years cannot run for mayor because term limits prohibit them from serving additional time on the same governing body.

Attorneys for two members of the Reno City Council contemplating bids for mayor argued before the court that the office of mayor is distinct from that of a member of the council, an argument the high court rejected.

Hafen was re-elected in April 2013 in the primary after receiving 55 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field, eliminating the need for a runoff election. Workman received 37 percent of the vote.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Follow him on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.