Henderson constable faces 5 challengers after 20 years in office

People not evicted or served court papers might not have been aware of what a township constable was before last year.

Media coverage surrounding the Clark County commissioners’ decision to dissolve the Las Vegas office has people paying attention to an office rarely on their radar.

Now, Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell, who has rarely been seriously opposed since first being elected in 1994, finds himself with five challengers.

Three Republicans and two Democrats have registered to prevent Mitchell, a Republican, from reaching his sixth term in office for a job that pays a $2,460 base salary. Mitchell had no challengers in 2010.

“People don’t realize there are 11 independent, separate constable offices in the county,” Mitchell said. “In my 20 years, no tax dollars have been spent on any lawsuits, civil rights violations or use of force. We’ve always been under the radar. We’ve always done our job.”

Constables are elected in each Clark County township to perform tasks including serving court paperwork and handling evictions.

Mitchell, a Henderson police officer for 20 years before retiring in 2008, found himself in the midst of the Las Vegas mess after the constable there sued him in a turf dispute. A state Supreme Court panel ruled in November that the Las Vegas constable did not have standing to bring the action.

Mitchell, who said he is using his own money in the case, said issues surrounding the Las Vegas office should serve as a warning to Henderson voters to elect a candidate with strong law enforcement experience who understands the self-supporting business nature of the constable’s office.

But his 20 years in office seem to some of Mitchell’s challengers to be long enough.

Republican John Stites, with 29 years in law enforcement before retiring as a sergeant from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department in 2009, said it is time for someone with new ideas.

“I’ve got a wealth of experience in law enforcement and a great background in leadership,” said Stites, who moved to Henderson five years ago.

Stites said the office will have his full attention, saying he believes Mitchell treated it as a part-time position until retiring from the Henderson police.

Republican candidate Jason A. Malone said he does not plan an overhaul of the office but that Mitchell has taken advantage of a lack of term limits and “overstayed his welcome.”

Malone graduated from Basic High School and said he graduated last year from Nevada State College with a business degree.

Stites and Malone, a Henderson police officer for seven years, expressed concern about transparency of the office, with Malone harking back to a 2007 appearance by Mitchell before the state Ethics Commission. The panel found he had not intentionally withheld income made as constable by only reporting his base salary, and not what he was paid through fees, on financial disclosure forms.

“If you’re an elected official, part of that is understanding that you need to tell folks what they’re getting for their money,” said Malone.

Republican candidate Douglas Hale is a Las Vegas native and marshal with Clark County District Court. “My big motivation is change,” said Hale, who lists a supervisor in casino protection and his family business on his resume.

The Republican primary winner will face Democratic candidates Joe Pitts or Terry Watson in November.

Pitts, who lost bids for Henderson City Council in 1987 and for university regent in 2010, said the Las Vegas office’s lawsuit and how long Mitchell has been in office led him to run.

“No board of directors, no city council, no county commission, would allow a department head to be in office 20 years,” said Pitts, who spent 27 years with the Henderson fire department, some in supervisory positions. “It’s time for a change.”

Watson could not be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Follow him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind

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