Stench of waste still stains North Las Vegas

Maybe you’ve heard something stinks in North Las Vegas.

The malodor results from a dangerous mixture of hubris and incompetence and perhaps even outright corruption. It’s a noxious smell and an expensive one. Its full cost might not be known for years and without the use of subpoena power.

It’s no secret that North Las Vegas totters on the verge of insolvency. New Mayor John Lee has been refreshingly candid in explaining to the public the challenges ahead. But not even the mayor and his best accountants and actuarial experts can fully know the bottom line.

Something stinks in North Las Vegas, all right.

Some would argue that the smell comes from its $130 million City Hall itself. At a time someone in authority ought to have understood the city’s long-range financial picture, a plan to create a new headquarters for a government that is open four days a week went ahead with relatively little debate. Those who questioned the good sense of the construction were ridiculed and marginalized.

But it’s not all work and no play in North Las Vegas. Perhaps that’s the theory behind the decision to spend $130 million — $130 million! — to create a 170-acre community park with facilities for ballplayers and skateboarders alike. When it opened in October, officials acknowledged that, well, it would cost $2 million a year just to maintain.

A few weeks later, Lee pondered whether the city might need to hand over its park maintenance responsibilities to the city of Las Vegas.

Something stinks in North Las Vegas, pal.

And nothing reeks worse than the city’s $300 million wastewater treatment facility. Beyond the question of whether it was genuinely needed — it wasn’t, according to multiple city sources — there’s the fact that, in order to be successful, it also would require a pipeline to the lake at a dizzying estimated cost of $860 million.

Fortunately, the pipeline didn’t leave the drawing board. North Las Vegas residents will be paying for the wastewater plant for a long time. Its impact on the city’s perilous financial future is not yet completely known.

In order to more fully understand just what was going on in North Las Vegas a decade ago when so many of these decisions were being made, authorities will need forensic accountants. They also will need an inside source.

I would like to draft longtime Republican Party campaign insider and felon Steve Wark in that role.

Wark, convicted of fixing elections in the ongoing FBI investigation of corruption inside Southern Nevada’s homeowners associations and the construction defect litigation racket, was for many years a close confidant of then-North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon.

Surely Wark, who has agreed to cooperate with the FBI in the HOA investigation, would recall just how government worked down in Northtown in those years of grand expansion.

In those days, it would have been easy for city officials to become intoxicated by the breakneck development that spread rapidly in all directions out from the city’s careworn center. Elected officials, supposedly the people’s watchdogs, rode the wave of expansion.

Not many can point to their publicly stated concerns about the costs of growth to the community or the need for sound decision-making when it came to using taxpayer dollars for things like a new city hall and sewer treatment facility. Surely someone must remember something.

After all, $130 million for a park built through the heart of a recession? And $300 million for a wastewater treatment plant that wasn’t necessary?

That doesn’t smell like government in action. That smells like the mafia.

Mayor Lee and the city’s new financial leaders are asking the right questions. They know what we all know: Something stinks in North Las Vegas.

The only way to remove the stench is to understand its source.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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