The city of Las Vegas has been "irresponsible" in its redevelopment efforts, and the City Council acted unconstitutionally when it barred two proposed ballot measures from the June 2 city elections, according to a complaint filed Tuesday with the Nevada Supreme Court.
The complaint asks for an expedited hearing to compel the city to put the two related measures on the ballot. The measures were backed by a 14,000-signature drive and seek to radically alter, or even end, the city’s redevelopment plan, which uses incentives to attract projects to blighted areas.
"The City Council has no authority to refuse to submit the measures to voters," states the complaint, which names the City Council and City Clerk Beverly Bridges.
It was filed on behalf of the Las Vegas Taxpayer Accountability Committee and the Las Vegas Redevelopment Reform Committee, but the chief force behind the effort is Culinary Local 226, which has vocally opposed a proposed new city hall project as risky and irresponsible.
"It is clear that the city of Las Vegas took the law into their own hands, violating the constitutional rights of voters," said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary union, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "Instead of wasting further taxpayer dollars fighting these ballot measures, the city of Las Vegas should obey the law and let the voters decide."
One of the ballot measures would repeal the existing redevelopment plan. The other would require voter approval for appropriations to pay back a "lease-purchase" agreement, which is the type of financing being considered for the proposed, and controversial, new city hall.
Culinary’s complaint also alleges that the city is playing timing games, since the election on June 2 and absentee ballots must be printed and mailed by April 24. There isn’t time to take the matter through normal district court challenges, it states.
"The city has known of the substance of these measures since early December 2008," yet waited until the "eve of the election" to make the move, it states. The city shouldn’t be able to shoot down a measure based on constitutionality until voters have a chance to say yea or nay, the complaint states.
"The city must wait until after the measures are approved to raise its constitutional claims," it states. "Addressing substantive challenges to the measures in this proceeding would reward the city for its delay and would encourage other local officials to tactically ignore their ministerial, constitutional duties."
At last week’s City Council meeting, City Attorney Brad Jerbic said both measures are "legally defective" and would present constitutional issues such as interfering with existing contracts between the city and developers. He predicted a legal tsunami if the redevelopment plan were repealed, and said the voter approval for appropriations directives would run counter to state law.
"This was not an unexpected development," Jerbic said in an e-mail late Tuesday, adding that he can’t comment on pending litigation. He said the city had been served with the complaint and "will respond when ordered to by the Supreme Court."
Last week, Jerbic told council members that he hadn’t brought the matter before them earlier because of attempts to resolve the conflict.
City leaders have proposed financing as much as $267 million to build a new city hall at the corner of First Street and Clark Avenue. (The current price tag is an estimated $150 million.) It would be part of an ambitious downtown development deal that’s supposed to spark the construction of new office towers, retail and entertainment space, and one or two casinos.
City leaders have pointed to those potential casinos as the real imperative behind the union’s criticism. They contend that the union wants the city to pressure casino developers into labor contracts with Culinary, a position Culinary has strenuously denied.