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Attorney general rejects term limits challenge of Henderson Mayor Hafen

The next stop will be the courts for a former Henderson mayoral candidate trying to remove Mayor Andy Hafen from office.

The Nevada attorney general’s office has rejected Thursday a request by Rick Workman’s attorney to require Hafen to explain why he should remain in office due to a recent term limits ruling.

In a letter sent by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to Workman’s attorney, the office states it found that a state Supreme Court ruling in February “was not intended to apply retrospectively to unseat current office holders who were elected before the court’s ruling.”

The 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.

Cortez Masto’s letter said the Lorton ruling established “a new rule of law” but a “retrospective application may produce inequitable results to the voters by removing the official whom they re-elected prior” to the February ruling.

The attorney general cited that “no challenge” to Hafen’s candidacy was brought last year before he won in the seven-candidate primary.

Hafen has been mayor since 2009, winning re-election last year after receiving 55 percent of the vote in the primary. Workman, a city employee since 2000 who works for the Henderson Police Department as its criminalistics administrator, received 37 percent of the vote. Hafen had served on the City Council since 1987 before becoming mayor.

Hafen’s attorney Todd L. Bice said in a statement the mayor is “pleased” but “not surprised” with Cortez Masto’s decision.

“It is noteworthy that neither Mr. Workman nor his legal team had made any challenge to the mayor’s eligibility prior to an election where Henderson residents overwhelmingly voted to retain Mayor Hafen,” the statement read. “With the attorney general’s conclusion, perhaps they will now stop trying to overturn elections where they seek to strip voters of the right to have their votes counted.”

The attorney for Workman sent two letters requesting that the governor, attorney general and secretary of state intervene to oust Hafen.

Beatriz Aguirre, spokeswoman for Cortez Masto, said the office worked with the secretary of state’s office in making the decision.

Sandoval spokesman Mac Bybee said Friday the request “is a legal matter for the secretary of state’s and attorney general’s offices.”

Workman’s attorney, Stephanie Rice, said while they respect the attorney general’s opinion, there is a difference between “enacting something and applying it retroactively” and enforcing a term limits law that has been on the books.

“While we respect the attorney general’s opinion, it is not always accurate in their interpretation,” Rice said. “That’s exactly why we have courts and we’ll have to let them decide.”

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

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