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Proposal could keep stadium question off June ballot

Las Vegas city leaders are puzzling over a proposed ordinance that would block a citywide vote on a proposed soccer stadium, though the measure set for a City Council vote next week doesn’t actually say that.

Adding to the mystery: The item on next Wednesday’s council agenda is sponsored not by a person but by an opinion.

Ordinances are usually sponsored by a city official, but this one lists the sponsor as “judicial interpretation of (Nevada Revised Statute) Chapter 295.” It asks the council to reject the possibility of “contributing, investing or lending any of its revenue or assets … for a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium in Symphony Park.”

Letter for letter, that’s the same question Las Vegas residents will see on the June 2 municipal election ballot — if the council doesn’t approve the ordinance in advance.

So who is “judicial interpretation” and what, exactly, is this all about?

City Attorney Brad Jerbic acknowledged that his office is behind the proposal, which he said must be put before the council under state law.

NRS 295.215, in his office’s opinion, requires an up-or-down vote on any ballot question. He said he thought it was more appropriate to attribute the proposed ordinance to “judicial interpretation” than to put a name or that of his office on it.

“(The law) says the council needs to reject (the ordinance),” Jerbic said. “If it is adopted, then it doesn’t have to go on the ballot.”

He said that’s true even if a district court judge has ruled the public must be given a chance to vote, as was the case with the stadium initiative.

Jerbic said his office reached a legal conclusion on the matter, without taking into account any political considerations.

“If somebody wants to challenge my office’s interpretation, I have no problem with that,” he added.

Stadium opponents say they’re perplexed by Jerbic’s move, and suspect he’s trying to pull a fast one.

Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony, who is challenging longtime stadium supporter Mayor Carolyn Goodman on an anti-stadium subsidy campaign platform, sees the hand of the mayor behind the “ludicrous” move.

“As far as I can tell, this is just another example of Goodman trying to keep (the stadium question) off the ballot,” Anthony said. “She doesn’t want this to be by her name on the ballot. … It’s political. To me, that’s what this was all about.”

Goodman did not immediately return requests for comment.

A controversial deal to build a 24,000-seat, $200 million soccer venue was stricken from the City Council agenda on Feb. 18 — less than a week after MLS pulled the plug on a Las Vegas expansion franchise and only two weeks after District Court Judge Jerry Weise ruled municipal voters could weigh in on $56 million in public subsidies. City leaders have not yet decided whether to appeal that decision.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell said Wednesday’s council vote is merely an administrative formality mandated by state law. She did not mention the possibility that such a vote could keep the issue from going to voters.

Councilman and stadium subsidy opponent Bob Beers — one of three city leaders who spearheaded a successful effort to put the issue to voters — laughed off the council vote as a campaign stunt.

Beers said the oddly named move is what’s known in Carson City as a “committee bill” — a piece of legislation no one wants to leave their fingerprints on.

Beers and others also suggested that allowing the council to pre-empt the ballot measure would provide political cover to the four council members who backed the stadium in December but who then could tell angry voters they voted against the proposal.

But Councilman Bob Coffin didn’t mind speaking in defense of the item.

Coffin, who provided the swing vote needed to approve a city-subsidized soccer stadium plan in December, will face five challengers in the April 7 primary election. He didn’t deny that voting for the ordinance might help him pick up a few votes but said politics doesn’t factor into his support for the item.

“It’s just accepting reality,” Coffin said. “I’ve lost this now. I’m spending a lot of time and money explaining and unwinding a lot of the bad info in people’s heads. I’d still be doing that, whether we adopt (the ordinance) or not.”

There have also been suggestions that the ordinance would make a ban on subsidies easier for the council to reverse if conditions change in the future. A citywide vote of the people would be much harder to unravel, though Jerbic said the ordinance could be amended to prevent future council backtracking before it goes up for a final vote on March 18.

Next week’s council vote would be only the latest in a string of apparently useless votes on the ostensibly dead soccer stadium plan. In fact, it’s only one of four stadium-related items that could see council action next week.

Another of those items — an appeal aimed at challenging the court ruling — may still have enough support to pass, Coffin said.

Coffin said he was open to an appeal until MLS dropped Las Vegas from the running for a soccer team but now sees no point.

He said he remains on the fence about a proposed amendment aimed at freeing up the stadium site for future development as an “outdoor facility or area for sport” not specifically tied to soccer.

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

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