The message from the Nevada Supreme Court could not have been clearer: Andy Hafen shouldn’t be mayor of Henderson.
Mr. Hafen’s long tenure on the Henderson City Council wasn’t at issue last month when the high court handed down a stunning clarification of the voter-approved term limits enshrined in Nevada’s constitution. But the decision has obvious consequences for the elected leader of Nevada’s second-largest city. His current term almost certainly will be his last.
The Supreme Court’s ruling addressed this year’s race for mayor of Reno. Jessica Sferrazza and Dwight Dorch, former members of the Reno City Council, had announced they’d run for the city’s top office despite having already served the maximum 12 years as council members.
No one had previously asserted that the job of a mayor and a ward representative on a council were essentially the same, thereby limiting anyone to 12 total years of service on a city council. Because of that, Mr. Hafen ran for mayor in 2009 despite having already served 22 years on the Henderson council, 10 of those after term limits had taken effect. He won, and no one challenged the legality of his successful re-election campaign last year, either.
But Reno businessman George “Eddie” Lorton believed term limits prevented Ms. Sferrazza and Mr. Dorch from seeking the office he wanted to win, as well. So he sought court intervention to halt the campaigns of Ms. Sferrazza and Mr. Dorch before they could formally start. And the high court obliged, ruling the pair ineligible just before the start of official candidate filing for this year’s elections.
Ms. Sferrazza immediately petitioned the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling, but justices rejected that petition Wednesday.
Ms. Sferrazza and Mr. Dorch aren’t the only ones kicking themselves. Every person who ran against Mr. Hafen in 2009 and 2013 has to be wondering to themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And it’s doubtful that any of them — or anyone else, for that matter — has the standing to file a challenge that asks for some form of relief. Would the court consider a request to remove Mr. Hafen from office, considering its decision that his service on the council should have ended years ago? Could all of his votes as mayor be challenged as well?
More likely, considering Mr. Hafen’s 2013 re-election was perfectly legal at the time, he’d be allowed to complete this term and retire in 2017 after 30 years of elected service. Thanks to the high court’s ruling, no Nevada city council member will ever get close to that number again.