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Henderson city clerk explains reason for canceled candidate forum

Henderson City Clerk Jose Luis Valdez on Tuesday took responsibility for canceling last week’s candidate forum.

After the City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Valdez met with five of the seven candidates running for Henderson’s vacant Ward 1 city council seat. Candidates Melissa Woodbury and Tim Cox could not attend, but Valdez said he spoke to both of them prior to the meeting.

Valdez’s meeting with the candidates was held to clarify why a candidate forum organized by the River Mountain Ranch Estates homeowners association was canceled an hour before it was scheduled to start last week.

Valdez started the meeting by clarifying that the cancellation was his call.

“I want to make that very clear. Nobody called telling me or asking me or ordering me to do anything related to that particular situation,” Valdez said. “It was on my request that the Parks and Recreation Department canceled that event.”

The city clerk said he made the decision to cancel after learning that it was a political event at Henderson’s Heritage Park Senior Facility. He cited ethical concerns that a political candidate event would be held in a publicly owned building, especially since the facility that would have held the event is also the city’s backup polling place if City Hall couldn’t be used.

City Attorney Nicholas Vaskov explained that any political event is allowed to be held within a city space as long as the organizers pay to rent the space. If city funds are paying for a space, the event being held cannot be political in nature.

Under these guidelines, last week’s canceled forum is ethically allowed, but Valdez and Vaskov said they didn’t know all the facts at the time of the cancellation.

“Renting the facility is OK, you’re paying the freight. But again, at the time we were making that decision, we didn’t know that. Parks and Rec may have known that, but we didn’t know that,” Vaskov said.

Valdez said he found out about the event’s political nature hours before its scheduled start and canceled it out of caution because he didn’t have all of the information. He called the cancellation “the best possible decision” for that situation “with the information available” at the time.

At the request of multiple candidates at the meeting, the city officials agreed to publish a clarification of the rules to avoid future confusion on the issue.

The candidates’ reactions to the meeting were largely positive, though many were still disappointed that the forum was canceled.

Alex Kleytman commended Valdez for making the “tough call” in canceling the event, noting that the special election is getting a lot of attention in the state. Aaron Johnson also commended Valdez for taking the brunt of this issue, but also said he wished the city officials would have dug deeper into the facts of the event before canceling it out of caution.

Jim Seebock said he’s still disappointed that the public missed their chance to attend the forum, but is hopeful another can be held. Ali Nilson said she was grateful for the meeting’s clarification and also looks forward to future candidate events.

Tim Cox said he spoke with Valdez on Thursday. While happy that Valdez took the time to explain why he made the decision, Cox was still disappointed by the cancellation and called for clearer city policy regarding political events.

The only candidate wholly unhappy with the meeting was Eddie Hamilton, who said the cancellation came from “political paranoia” and infringed on free speech. Melissa Woodbury could not be reached for comment.

Representatives from River Mountain Ranch Estates say they plan to hold another event with all seven candidates before the special election on April 3.

The special election is being held to fill the vacant council seat after Michelle Romero’s election to mayor. An early voting period also will be held from March 28 to March 30.

Only Ward 1 residents will be eligible to vote in the election.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCredicoII.

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