Henderson residents were sick of their government’s embarrassingly insular culture long before a flimflam stadium plan blew up in the City Council’s collective face.
Now voters have the perfect outlet to express their displeasure with the amateur politics of City Hall: a municipal election, with Mayor Andy Hafen, Henderson’s insider-in-chief, at the top of the ballot.
Mr. Hafen is seeking a second term as mayor after serving 12 years on the council. And what a tenure it has been.
The city, which still can’t balance its budget without tapping reserves or offering employee buyouts, has poured millions of dollars into the pie-in-the-sky Henderson Space and Science Center. Although the council last year finally backed off a $21 million pledge made to the museum concept during the worst stretch of the Great Recession, the council can’t bring itself to completely wean the project off tax money.
In 2011, the council paid its former city manager, Mary Kay Peck, almost $1.3 million to settle her wrongful termination lawsuit. (She was fired when Mr. Hafen was on the council.) Later that year, the city had to pay City Attorney Elizabeth Quillen almost $100,000 to compel her resignation following her drunken driving arrest — the council had given her a contract that made it exceptionally difficult and expensive to fire her, even after a criminal offense.
The subsequent hiring of Josh Reid, son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as city attorney was quite an encore. The city received plenty of qualified applicants for the job. But after Sen. Reid made a phone call to Mr. Hafen, whose daughter used to work for the Nevada Democrat — voila! — the standards were watered down so the inexperienced Josh Reid could apply and be juiced into the job.
Throw in a horrible police beating of a man suffering a diabetic seizure, which was kept from the public for a year, and voters have more than enough reasons to retire Mr. Hafen.
But the city’s perpetual lack of due diligence was especially egregious in dealing with developer Christopher Milam, the valley’s Pied Piper of sports arena proposals. Despite an outstanding fraud judgment against Mr. Milam, the city helped him acquire the acreage for a stadium complex from the federal Bureau of Land Management in a good-ol-boy deal that had consultants playing both sides and city insiders lined up for a cut. Mr. Milam was working to flip the land before he even closed escrow on the parcel, and the council enabled all of it. It took a lawsuit and an urgently negotiated settlement to end the episode before the election.
Through it all, Mr. Hafen has revealed himself to be an arrogant, small-time leader who hires his friends, doesn’t do his homework and prefers to keep his door closed. Forrest Gump would do better — at least he could be counted on to do the right thing. That’s why Mr. Hafen has attracted six challengers. But if those six people split votes, Mr. Hafen could win re-election outright by capturing a majority of ballots in the primary.
Fortunately, voters can confidently get behind one of Mr. Hafen’s challengers: Rick Workman, the Henderson Police Department’s accreditation coordinator. A retired 20-year U.S. Air Force officer who inspected nuclear weapons and commanded maintenance units, Mr. Workman vows to use his troubleshooting and policy-management experience to open and improve the culture of Henderson government, ask tough questions and nail down the details that so often are missed by City Hall. The Review-Journal endorses Rick Workman for Henderson mayor.
In the Ward 3 race for City Council, appointed incumbent John Marz faces a field of three uninspiring challengers. The longtime advertising and gaming executive has been on the job for a little more than a year, and the council’s run of embarrassment largely predates him. His private-sector background is an asset to the council. Vote for John Marz.
Finally, Henderson Municipal Judge Mark Stevens is seeking re-election to Department 1 against three attorneys. When an incumbent judge draws so many challengers, it’s a message that the legal community thinks it can do better. In the Review-Journal’s 2011 Judging the Judges survey, Judge Stevens was the second-lowest-rated Municipal Court jurist in the county, with 64 percent of attorneys recommending retention. Voters can indeed do better — by selecting longtime prosecutor Sandy Allred DiGiacomo, who has locked up enough serious criminals to understand the importance of making sure lower-tier offenders don’t find their way into state court. The Review-Journal endorses Sandy Allred DiGiacomo for Municipal Court.
Early voting in Henderson starts Saturday. Primary election day is April 2.