Corrective action noted in breach of Open Meeting Law

The Henderson City Council broke the state’s Open Meeting Law when it used secret ballots to help fill a vacancy in early July, but council members corrected the violation by disclosing their votes a few weeks later.

So said the Nevada attorney general’s office, which reviewed the council’s actions in response to an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

On July 8, council members voted unanimously to appoint former city Planning Commissioner Debra March to fill the Ward 2 seat left vacant when Andy Hafen was elected mayor.

March came out on top after the council used secret nominations to narrow the field of candidates from 14 to six and secret ballots to rank the finalists.

In a ruling released late last week, Senior Deputy Attorney General George Taylor said that by allowing council members to submit unsigned ballots, the city failed to "adequately inform the public about each member’s vote" as required by law.

But Henderson officials "quickly took corrective action," Taylor said.

That came on July 21, after the Review-Journal lodged its complaint, when council members disclosed their nominations and revealed how they voted on the six finalists. Then they reaffirmed their decision to appoint March, who was sworn in a few minutes later.

The state took no action against the city.

But not everyone is ready to let the matter go.

Kevinn Donovan was one of the 14 candidates for the Ward 2 seat, and he thinks the appointment should be voided and a special election held instead.

That’s because the Henderson city charter requires a City Council appointment to be completed within 30 days, and the second vote to appoint March came outside of that window, Donovan said.

On Tuesday, he sent a letter to Henderson City Attorney Elizabeth Quillin asking her how the city plans to "correct the violation of the city charter."

Quillin was on vacation and unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Spokesman Bud Cranor said that the city "has always been committed to open, accessible government," so when questions were raised about the appointment process, "we voluntarily took corrective measures to ensure complete openness and transparency in our actions."

"We’re certainly pleased that the attorney general’s office has determined that no further action is necessary on this issue," Cranor said.

Review-Journal Editor Thomas Mitchell said he was satisfied with the ruling, though he wished it included "a bit more scolding."

Instead, Mitchell said, Taylor gave Henderson officials "a pretty quick out" by accepting the city’s corrective action so readily.

Donovan is thinking about hiring an attorney to pursue the issue further.

He said he has no personal objection to March or how she has served so far. He just wasn’t crazy about the appointment process to being with — and not just because he failed to survive the first cut.

He said he felt as if the council had made up its mind before the July 8 meeting even took place.

"They put us through this whole rigmarole and made us feel like we had a chance," he said. "We never had a chance."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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