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Henderson mayor won’t step down in wake of term-limits ruling

Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen has no plans to step down from his seat and will “vigorously pursue his legal remedies” if a lawsuit challenging his standing as mayor is filed.

Hafen, through his attorney Todd L. Bice, sent a letter Monday to the attorney for Rick Workman in response to Workman’s request last week that the two-term mayor resign or face a lawsuit. Workman’s request cited a recent state Supreme Court ruling on term limits.

The state Supreme Court on Feb. 20 ruled by a 5-2 margin in Lorton v. Jones that term-limit provisions in state law mean that members of the Reno City Council who already have served 12 years under the restrictions cannot run for mayor. The court on March 5 denied a request by a potential Reno mayoral candidate to reconsider its ruling.

Hafen has served on the Henderson City Council since 1987 and as mayor since 2009, winning re-election last year. Workman’s attorney, Reno-based Stephanie R. Rice, said she believes the standard should apply to Hafen.

Bice’s letter said that Workman’s claim doesn’t square with the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure, “which mandates a good faith basis for making a legal claim.” The letter said the state Supreme Court has ruled in another case that “private citizens who have no entitlement to the office for themselves…necessarily lack standing to assert any claim,” despite Workman finishing second to Hafen in last year’s mayoral primary.

Bice also said that “Mayor Hafen was duly elected under the controlling legal standard and voters cannot be deprived of their choice based upon after-the-fact interpretations regarding a prospective eligibility criteria.”

Hafen was re-elected in April 2013 in the primary after receiving 55 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field, eliminating the need for a runoff election. Workman received 37 percent of the vote.

Rice said Monday she has not had an opportunity to share the letter with her client, who works during the day.

However, Rice said, “my gut reaction is the last time an attorney told me a correspondence I sent wasn’t in compliance with (the state’s Rule of Civil Procedure) was the Lorton case.”

Rice was the attorney for George “Eddie” Lorton, who filed the successful lawsuit that argued that Reno council members who have been in office 12 years cannot run for mayor because term limits prohibit them from serving additional time on the same governing body.

While the Bice letter questions Workman’s standing to bring an action against Hafen, it also terms Workman’s request “a public relations stunt” that has “no good faith basis in law.”

The letter adds: “As I hope Mr. Workman recognizes, elections for Mayor are not akin to the Miss America Pageant… where the first runner up is deemed to be waiting in the wings to assume the title at some indeterminate future date.”

However, in the original letter sent by Rice last week, no mention is made of Workman asking to be declared mayor.

Rice sent City Attorney Josh Reid the letter on March 19 asking Hafen to “voluntarily step down from his position” because Hafen “fails to meet the qualifications to remain seated” as mayor. In stepping down, Hafen would “avoid the costs and publicity associated with a formal removal proceeding.”

Bice said in the letter Workman’s agenda in asking for Hafen’s resignation “concerns something other than politics and publicity,” but did not elaborate.

Hafen declined comment through Bice.

The city of Henderson said in a March 20 statement that any change to the mayor’s status could not be made by the city, and that “it must be done through the legal system as prescribed by state law.”

However, the city contends that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling “addressed the issue of a city council member’s eligibility to file as a candidate for the office of mayor and was silent regarding any application to a duly elected and currently seated mayor who was elected prior to the court’s decision.”

If the courts ruled in Workman’s favor, “the only involvement the city would have would be to determine the process to fill a vacancy should one occur.”

Attorneys for two members of the Reno City Council contemplating bids for mayor argued before the court that the office of mayor is distinct from that of a member of the council, an argument the high court rejected.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Follow on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.

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