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Clark County backs Reno in firefighter layoffs case

Clark County and other local governments in Southern Nevada are actively supporting Reno in an unfolding lawsuit between the city and its firefighter union.

The county and Nye County, along with the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas, filed a brief last week with the Nevada Supreme Court that backs the city of Reno in the lawsuit. The case is rooted in the city’s move to lay off 33 firefighters who were paid with grant funding that has since ended.

A District Court judge in Reno issued a preliminary injunction in June that prevents Reno from completing scheduled layoffs. The order states that the union could prevail in administrative proceedings that haven’t yet happened, including taking the dispute before an arbitrator. Reno has appealed that order to the state’s Supreme Court.

The county’s brief argues that Reno, like other cities, has the power to manage its finances and make decisions through the separation of powers principle that prevents one branch of government from encroaching on another.

“The weighing of the various needs of a city or county cannot be second-guessed by a judiciary, which is provided no standards by which to judge those competing needs,” the brief states.

Clark County commissioners discussed the issue Wednesday.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county’s arguments are focused on the broader legal aspects of the case, not the labor negotiations between Reno and its firefighters union.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow agreed, saying that elected officials are representatives of the taxpayers.

Commissioner Tom Collins opposed the county’s involvement in the case.

“I strongly believe that we’ve got no business in any shape or form of being involved in this while there is a labor dispute in a municipality that’s 450 miles from us,” Collins said.

Collins noted that he doesn’t believe the Supreme Court will harm the Nevada statute that covers public employees and relations with governments.

The county’s attorney, Mary Anne Miller, responded that her concern is not limited to that.

“One of the most important jobs you do is determining the allocation of limited funding,” she told commissioners.

The brief also argues that the District Court improperly exercised its jurisdiction in the case because the union had not yet pursued administrative remedies, which include taking the matter to the Local Government Employee Management Relations Board.

Commissioners had apparently been unaware of the filing, in which Miller played a role. Giunchigliani said she first heard about the brief when someone asked her about it at a grocery store.

Miller said that for quick-moving legal actions, she’ll talk to commissioners individually about court filings to keep them updated, which is allowed under the state open meeting law.

Douglas County, Storey County and the Nevada Taxpayers Association have filed motions to join the brief backing Reno.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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