Henderson panel rejects mayoral job changes

A proposal that could have cleared the way for Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen to seek a third term, and maybe protect him from a lawsuit seeking his ouster, was rejected.

In its final report approved Wednesday, the citizens Charter Committee did not advance the proposal to change the position of the Henderson mayor to a chief executive officer removed from the City Council.

The committee, appointed by the City Council and state legislators, heard a presentation June 11 from Assistant City Attorney Nechole Garcia that “proposed language regarding term limits for elected officials, tightening the City Charter, and a suggestion to add language to the Charter to reflect the Lorton (Nevada Supreme Court) decision.”

The proposed amendment was a copy-and-paste of the city of Sparks’ charter.

The move would have seen the mayor lose a vote on the council, gain a veto on all matters passed by the council, and act as the head of city government as a chief executive officer.

The move, if it had been pursued, could have allowed Hafen to seek a third term as mayor in 2017.

Any change to the charter would have to be approved by the City Council, then the state Legislature in 2015.

The attorney for Rick Workman, the former mayoral candidate challenging Hafen’s standing in office with the Supreme Court, seized on the June 11 proposal as an example that the city is “diligently at work to find a loophole for Mr. Hafen” to remain in office.

City Attorney Josh Reid said Wednesday that the information in the proposed amendment was requested by the committee, and that there is no city-led effort to find a way for Hafen to remain in office beyond his current term.

Attorney Keith Pickard, a legislative appointee on the Charter Committee, said there was no interest by the committee to change the charter, even though it was “logically, one option available” to the committee to recommend to the City Council.

“None of us had an appetite to recommend to change to Sparks, for a number of reasons,” Pickard said. “It would require an overhaul of the whole city structure. None of us intended to go there.”

The Charter Committee, at its fourth and final meeting Wednesday, declined to forward any recommendations — including changing voting to even years only, and limiting voting to specific wards — for the City Council’s consideration.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 20 ruled by a 5-2 margin in Lorton v. Jones that term-limit provisions in state law say members of the Reno City Council who have served 12 years cannot run for mayor, because it is one legislative body.

The ruling prevents Hafen from seeking re-election in 2017, and has brought a legal challenge to his current standing in office in that court.

Pickard said his concern entering the committee meetings in March was that the Reno and Henderson charters were almost identical, and he wanted the committee to clear up some language to reflect the Lorton decision.

The committee asked the city attorney’s office to weigh in on whether they felt there was a need for a change to clarify the mayor’s relationship to the council, and what the office might recommend for tightening and clarifying, Pickard said.

However, the committee got something extra to review.

“One of the things the city attorney did was he said, ‘Let’s look at what the alternative is in Sparks,’ ” Pickard said. “That’s where that document came from.”

Allegations of Hafen working with the city to find a loophole came Tuesday in the latest Supreme Court filing by Workman’s attorney, Stephanie Rice.

“Mr. Hafen has made it more than clear that he intends to dominate the political landscape of the city of Henderson indefinitely,” Rice said in the filing.

Rice’s allegation comes less than a week after the city filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating 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. That filing had Rice accusing the mayor of using “city time and resources to fight his own personal battles.”

Reid said the decision to file the brief was his alone, and was done to make the court aware of the impact on the city and its voters if the mayor was removed during the term. The filing was not made to benefit Hafen, nor at his urging.

Reid also said the city will not try to amend the city charter’s election process for the 2015 state Legislature after the committee declined to forward any recommendations Wednesday.

“There is zero attempt by staff and no staff time being spent to rewrite our charter or find a way for Hafen to run again,” Reid said. “That is nothing we’re pursuing as a city in any shape or form to amend our charter.

Workman filed a petition through Rice on May 21 asking the Supreme Court to “immediately” remove Hafen “from office on the legislative body of the city of Henderson” because of state term-limit laws. The court filing asks the court to oust Hafen, or direct the attorney general or secretary of state to take action, and remove the mayor.

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.

Tuesday’s filing by Rice was in response to motions filed by state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Secretary of State Ross Miller, and a separate response by Hafen.

A joint response filed by Masto’s and Miller’s offices July 2 argued Workman fails to show “he has any direct or personal stake in the outcome” and cannot challenge Hafen’s position in office.

Hafen’s attorney states Workman “knows” he does not have standing to seek relief from the court and has no standing to the mayor’s office. Also, the “attorney general has no ministerial or nondiscretionary obligation to facilitate Workman’s desire for revenge against Mayor Hafen or the voters that overwhelmingly rejected Workman.”

Rice said “allowing Mr. Hafen to finish out his term for a total of three decades in office will not cure the Constitutional flaw in his service, nor does it protect the overwhelming intent of the voters who voted for and passed the term limits amendment — in two separate elections.”

The court will now decide if it will hear arguments, or issue a ruling off the filings.

Pending that ruling, Pickard said the Charter Committee felt it would be best to leave the charter as it relates to the mayor’s office unchanged for now, and wait to see what the Supreme Court says in the Hafen case.

“If they come out with anything else that may require some adjustment (of the charter), then we could do that all at the same time,” Pickard said.

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

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