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Preserve panel’s term limits

New Ward 3 Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin was “disappointed that I couldn’t reappoint my planning commissioner,” Steve Evans, who was prohibited by municipal term limits from continuing in office after eight years.

“He was good, damn good,” Mr. Coffin said of Mr. Evans, who opposed him in the primary election for council. “It is hard to find people that good.”

Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow was similarly disappointed to learn that municipal term limits meant longtime Planning Commissioner Byron Goynes would have to step aside for a few years before he could go on serving as a planning commissioner.

So the councilmen simply decided to change the law.

The city manager’s recommending committee (which included Mr. Coffin and Mr. Barlow) approved the proposal.

But on Wednesday, the City Council postponed a vote, pushing it back to later this month.

Good.

This is not a question of the competence or honesty of Mr. Evans or Mr. Goynes, which are doubtless estimable. But injecting some fresh blood into the process on occasion is good for the body politic.

Madison, Jefferson and many other serious thinkers of the founding generation favored something called “rotation in office.” Why should this matter in so minor an office as a local planning commission?

After a time, even the most diligent public servant comes to regard an office as his personal property. It’s human nature to fall into the pattern of approving proposals and applications from plaintiffs who are smart enough to hire attorneys or other representatives familiar to the long-term office holder, while viewing with more skepticism the proposals of outsiders, which can thus get snared in red tape even though they may be just as proper on their merits.

The result? Government of, by and for the good old boys.

Is the current statutory restriction on Las Vegas planning commissioners — after serving two consecutive four-year terms they must step aside for at least two years before returning — really so onerous? It is the minimum required to avoid an institutional hardening of the arteries.

June Ingram, president of the Charleston Neighborhood Preservation board, submitted a letter of opposition to the change. “We have a citizen representative Planning Commission due to the wisdom of providing an ordinance with term limits specified,” the letter correctly noted.

Let’s hope the council eventually agrees.

 

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