By Selwyn Harris
After local residents voted to dissolve the Pahrump Town Board into an essentially powerless advisory board this week, it remains to be seen how the action will affect the future of Pahrump town government.
In July, Nye County District 4 Commissioner Butch Borasky convinced fellow commissioners to put the question on the ballot.
His decision was based on what he thought was an air of arrogance among unnamed board members as well as their apparent lack of concern for public interests.
Though the ballot question was passed by a very slim margin, 7,294 voters in favor versus 7,063 opposed, the legality of the question itself is in litigation following the town board’s suggestion that the county failed to follow state law by virtue of placing the question on the ballot.
Board member Dr. Tom Waters said the entire affair is in a holding pattern.
“We are waiting for Judge Robert Lane to make a ruling. If he makes a decision that the county acted within their authority by putting it on the ballot, then everything stands just as it is. If he finds that the county acted beyond their authority, he could have it removed and not counted. He’s the judge and I wouldn’t try to predict which way it is going to go, but I’ll support it either way,” he said.
Waters also said that when and if the board is dismantled, county commissioners may be in over their collective heads as far as performing the business of both entities.
“They have a big county to run and they already have their hands full. They have an awesome responsibility and I say that over and over. I don’t want to take anything away from the commissioners because they’ve got a tough job. To handle the town of Pahrump is not something they signed up for and it is not in their charter,” he said.
The action, Waters noted, would indeed put some town jobs on the chopping block, starting with the town manager.
“They won’t need both a town manager and a county manager to run things, so they would not have a town manager and Bill Kohbarger’s job would go away. Some of the other jobs could also go away. According to Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, all of the jobs in Pahrump would stay but I don’t buy that and I don’t believe that,” he said.
At present, the town oversees area parks, the town cemetery, the swimming pool, and the Pahrump fire department.
Waters suggested that the latter may also be adversely affected in terms of providing professional and efficient public safety.
“I don’t think it will become a volunteer fire department, but I guess the county could cancel the union and then get rid of the fire department and tell the people that we are going to have a volunteer department. I think all of the professional firefighters as well as the ambulance service would probably go to Las Vegas or someplace else where they will get paid. As far as experience, I think it will go way down. We are talking about a volunteer fire department for 37,000 residents; I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Waters, who wrote the opposition portion of the ballot question, said he believes the question was intentionally worded in a way that would possibly confuse voters into voting for disbanding the board rather than retaining the body.
“I had several people coming out of the polling area excited that they have supported the town board by voting yes to keep the town board. I explained that they needed to vote no to keep the town board and they were really devastated. If that happened 116 times, that is the margin of passing or failing. If 116 people voted the other way, it would have kept the town board by one vote. It failed by 231 votes and if 116 voters were confused, then who knows what would have happened.
“If it had gone the other way, that would have been 232 and the town board would have been saved by one vote. It never dawned on me that the question could be confusing because I clearly understood it, but a number of people were telling me about how confusing it was for them. I don’t believe in complaining after the fact so we will just have to live with the results,” he said.
The county commissioners worded the question and forwarded it to the district attorney’s office.
Waters said Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi used the Nevada Revised Statute NRS language for the ballot question.
Attempts to reach Kunzi for comment on the issue were unsuccessful.
Bill Carns, who is the chairman of the Nye County Republican Central Committee was a big supporter of the ballot question.
He maintains that there is no truth to Waters’ assertion.
“Tom Waters is grasping at straws because he doesn’t want the town board to go away. The question was very simple and completely unambiguous. The county question number two was one simple question: ‘should the elected form of town board government in the town of Pahrump be abolished; yes or no.’ It’s a very simple question and you don’t need to have an English degree and you certainly don’t need to have a Tom Waters English Ph.D to understand it,” he said.
He said according to state law, it will take several years before the town board becomes an advisory board.
“There’s a couple of little points within the law that’s a little ambiguous as I read it. They will continue the town board for two years and then it will revert to an advisory panel because the law says that the seated members at the time of the election will carry on in their elected capacity. The seated members are Tom Waters and Harley Kulkin. The other people are not seated, they were just elected the same night.
“That’s what I have been told by a couple of the county commissioners and Brian Kunzi evidently reads it the same way. I am very proud of the citizens of the town of Pahrump to see the town board for what it is and what it has become and they no longer need to have that extra layer of government, which is going to do things such as double their property taxes in two years in such difficult economic times and continue to spend, spend, spend more money than what they bring in,” he said.
As it stands now, the seated members of the town board will fulfill their terms until they expire on Dec. 31, 2014.
Carns also noted that to expedite the town board’s removal both Kulkin and Waters should summarily give up their respective seats at once.
“I would hope that they see what the people decided and realize this is what the people want and go ahead and resign and let this show get on the road. They should remove themselves out of the way and allow the advisory panel to happen and forget about the town board. I really doubt that they would do that but I would hope they would because they are members of the very same community.
“They were elected to serve the community and the community decided that they don’t want their services anymore so I’m hoping they would actually recognize that and just bow out gracefully with the blessings of the town,” he said.
On Tuesday, local voters elected two new town board members.
Former board member Bill Dolan earned 5,622 votes while local resident Amy Riches picked up 5,940.
Frank Maurizio, also a former board member, lost his election bid by garnering just 5,410 votes.
Current Town Board Chair Vicky Parker lost her bid for re-election.
Parker gained just over 5,000 votes.
The governor’s office is expected to appoint an additional town board member to fill the vacancy left by Carolene Endersby, who resigned in March.
Requests to learn when the appointment will be made were not successful.