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Government access denied: City Council should halt notification fee policy

Local government is closest to the people, and as such, it should be the most accessible.

East Las Vegas resident Martin Dean Dupalo wanted the City Council to consider his arguments against an application for a package liquor permit in his neighborhood, and instead of being heard, he was asked to pay a $750 fee.

The Planning Commission approved the permit for the Wal-Mart at 201 N. Nellis Blvd. Five years ago, Mr. Dupalo persuaded the council to overrule the commission’s support for the permit. But in 2010, the commission was given the authority to decide such permits and other matters, in order to make city government more efficient. And now, if Mr. Dupalo wants to appeal the permit approval to the council, he’ll have to pay for notification postcards that must be sent to every property owner within 1,500 feet of the Wal-Mart.

The result of this policy is to make it impossible for people of middle to low incomes to appeal such decisions. It smacks of the kind of overcharging that can keep public records from being accessed.

“Ultimately, the government has an obligation to be reasonable and not create obstacles to access,” Staci Pratt, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, told the Review-Journal’s Benjamin Spillman. “That is a significant amount of money.”

Mr. Dupalo and his neighbors already pay for their government through property, sales and other taxes. To demand that he or anyone else cough up an amount that exceeds a typical resident’s weekly take-home pay, just to engage elected officials on a public matter, is an affront to open government.

Mr. Dupalo, who is president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, wouldn’t have to pay if his councilman, Bob Coffin, placed the permit on a council meeting agenda. But Mr. Coffin agrees with the Planning Commission and says there is no “broad neighborhood resistance. Here it is only one guy.”

But how can anyone in city government gauge neighborhood resistance when turnout for off-year municipal elections is around 10 percent? The Las Vegas City Council needs more citizen involvement, not fees that discourage it. The council should eliminate its notification fee policy forthwith.

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