Henderson City Council members might have violated the state’s open meeting law by using secret ballots to narrow the field of applicants for the vacant Ward 2 seat, said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.
Smith said he could find no exceptions in the law that would allow a city council to conduct any part of its appointment process in private.
“I can’t think of any reason to vote by secret ballot except to hide from the public who was voting for whom. State law clearly says votes must be taken openly,” he said.
Review-Journal Editor Thomas Mitchell said the newspaper intends to file a complaint with the Nevada attorney general’s office regarding the process.
During a special meeting on Wednesday, City Council members voted unanimously to appoint Henderson Planning Commissioner Debra March to the seat left empty when Andy Hafen was elected mayor.
First, though, council members cut the pool of applicants from 14 to six using nominations written on unsigned slips of paper. After that, the council members used secret ballots to rank the six finalists and select March.
“This process was pretty thoroughly vetted by the city attorney and the city clerk,” said Bud Cranor, spokesman for the city.
City Attorney Elizabeth Quillin could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon. Messages left for City Clerk Monica Simmons and Hafen were not returned.
City Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin defended the appointment process, even though she was the only council member to vote last month against filling the seat by appointment.
At the time, Boutin said she preferred to hold a special election and let voters make the choice. On Friday, she said the way the appointment was handled was the next best thing to an election.
“It was done with integrity. It was done with transparency. And it was absolutely without question done with fairness,” she said.
None of the 14 applicants for the council questioned the process while it was going on, and no one has complained about it to the city in the three days since, Cranor said.
Attorney general’s office spokeswoman Edie Cartwright said agency officials would not comment until they receive a written complaint and investigate the matter.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.