Henderson court filing opposes Hafen ouster

The city of Henderson weighed in on an attempt to remove its mayor over term limits.

City Attorney Josh Reid filed a friend-of-the-court brief late Friday with the Nevada Supreme Court, stating Mayor Andy Hafen’s removal would disrupt the business of the city, undermine the will of the voters and could cost the tax­payers $123,000 to hold a special election.

The city is not a named party in the case filed in May by former mayoral candidate and city employee Rick Workman. However, the city backs the position stated by Hafen and the state that Workman does not have standing to bring action, nor hold the office, and did not challenge Hafen’s qualifications before the election.

“The city has the responsibility to ensure the integrity of municipal elections, to support the will of the voters who cast ballots in an election, and to ensure that the laws of the city are followed,” a statement released by the city said. “Mr. Workman’s request to the court to remove the lawfully elected mayor more than a year after the election seeks to undermine a legitimate election, the will of the voters, and the city’s own charter. Additionally, it violates the separation of powers of the judicial and legislative branches of government.”

Workman is asking the court to oust Hafen over term-limit laws or direct the attorney general or secretary of state to take action and remove the mayor.

Stephanie Rice, the Reno-based attorney for Workman, said the city should not be spending taxpayer time fighting the mayor’s legal battles.

“It appears Mr. Hafen has rallied his troops to come to his defense in this matter,” Rice said in a statement. “What is disappointing about this is the fact that he has elected to use city time and resources to fight his own personal legal battle.”

Henderson spokeswoman Tracy Bower disputed that assertion, saying it was the city attorney’s office that decided the brief should be filed after reviewing the case.

“The mayor had no role or influence in the city attorney’s decision,” Bower said.

Workman’s quest to remove Hafen from office started with the city, then went to the state and the courts. A March 19 letter sent to Reid asked the mayor to “voluntarily step down from his position” to “avoid the costs and publicity associated with a formal removal proceeding.”

The city refused, stating the next day that any legal battle would be Hafen’s and “the only involvement the city would have would be to determine the process to fill a vacancy should one occur. However, until a decision is made by the courts, the city will continue to operate under its current structure. We do not have the ability to take any action until such time as we receive direction from the courts.”

Friday’s filing is the first time the city has involved itself in the court case.

Hafen, who has been on the City Council since 1987, won his second term as mayor in the 2013 primary, capturing nearly 55 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates. Workman, a city employee since 2000 who works as an administrator for the Henderson Police Department, was second with 37 percent of the vote.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 20 ruled by a 5-2 margin that term-limit provisions in state law say members of the Reno City Council who have served 12 years under the restrictions cannot run for mayor.

Rice said the Henderson city attorney’s office does not raise any issues that have not already been presented to the high court.

“At the end of the day, Mr. Hafen can solicit every single person and entity he knows to file a brief with the court to support the fact that he does not want to give up his keys to City Hall, but there is nothing that Mr. Hafen can do to change the law,” Rice said in a statement. “The Nevada Constitution says what it says and neither Mr. Hafen, nor his friends can change that. This most recent gesture just continues to prove just how desperate Mr. Hafen is to keep his hand in the city government cookies jar.”

The city argues in its filing it has a duty to its citizens to protect their rights in the case.

“The city has an interest in supporting the will of its residents who participated in the primary election, who in this case cast more than a majority of their votes for Mayor Hafen and … did not cast more than a majority of their votes for Workman,” the city filing said.

Workman, through Rice, is scheduled to file this week his response to Hafen and the state’s answers to his initial petition.

Contact Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.

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