In Pahrump, where local politics is almost a contact sport, town board members narrowly escaped being dragged from their latest meeting in handcuffs.
A group of disgruntled Republicans stepped forward Tuesday night to arrest three board members after they voted to repeal a town ordinance meant to complicate the process of incorporation.
Bill Carns, chairman of the Nye County Republican Central Committee, led the charge.
He said the board members knew their repeal was illegal but did it anyway, thus violating their oaths of office, which is a felony.
"This town board has been pretty egregious," Carns said.
The attempt at a citizen’s arrest fizzled when several officers on hand from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office refused to take board members Harley Kulkin, Vicky Parker and Tom Waters into custody.
Instead, the officers escorted the trio safely out of the building.
"They actually facilitated their escape. They escorted them to their vehicles, and they left," Carns said.
The confrontation at the meeting was captured by several video cameras. When the officers refuse to slap the cuffs on, you can hear at least one person say, "You guys are also under arrest."
"Oh boy, it was unbelievably ugly," said Parker, who has lived in Pahrump for more than a decade and is in her fourth year on the board. "It’s beyond me how they think they can arrest someone because they don’t like the way they vote."
Tuesday’s action came after an exchange of letters between the Nye County Republican Central Committee and town officials.
When he caught wind of the planned arrest, longtime Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said he met with Carns and tried to talk him out of it. After all, wrongfully arresting someone can result in criminal or civil action, the sheriff said.
"I told them, ‘You guys are skating on thin ice – in fact the ice has melted, and you guys are trying to skate on water,’ " DeMeo said. "I hoped there wasn’t going to be some friggin’ arrest fest come Tuesday night." But he sent some deputies to the meeting, just in case.
Parker said she felt Carns and company were trying to threaten and bully the town board. Many of them were wearing handguns on their hips, though Parker said she is used to that.
"They’re always like that," she said. "They take their open-carry (rights) seriously."
Undaunted by his failed arrest attempt, Carns followed up by filing a criminal complaint with the sheriff’s office for felony perjury against the board members. A few dozen other people plan to do the same, he said.
According to Carns, such a filing requires nothing more than probable cause that a crime has been committed, so anyone who so much as watches a video of the meeting can file their own criminal complaint. He hopes a lot of people will follow his lead.
"The more complaints that are filed against the board, it should show them the people of Pahrump are unhappy with their actions."
The issue at the heart of the dispute is incorporation, which has been talked about in Pahrump for decades but roundly rejected by voters each time it has appeared on the ballot.
The town of about 38,000 people 60 miles west of Las Vegas has been hit especially hard by the recession, and Carns said the last thing it needs is to become a city.
"Community wide, there is a very large number of people who don’t want another layer of government," he said.
The idea is especially scary, he said, "considering the town board we have is dysfunctional, and it would give them more power as a city council."
But Parker insists the move to repeal Pahrump Town Ordinance 46 was not intended to clear the way for cityhood. The action came at the advice of the town attorney, who is trying to weed out regulations that appear to have constitutional problems, Parker said.
"To my knowledge, nobody is pursuing incorporation. The town isn’t pursuing incorporation. I’m not pursuing incorporation," she said.
Carns said the rural county’s Republican Central Committee is now considering civil action against the town board for "malfeasance of office," but that idea will have to be approved by a vote of the committee at large.
Asked what might happen next, he said, "Who knows?"
Sheriff DeMeo doesn’t either, but there isn’t much that would surprise him at this point.
"For some reason we’re a frisky town," he said. "Sometimes I shake my head and think, ‘I can’t believe where I am.’ "
Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@review journal.com or 702-383-0350.