By Matt Ward
The county’s placement of a ballot question that allowed voters to turn the Pahrump Town Board into an advisory body last November was upheld by a district judge on Monday.
Judge Robert Lane sided with the county when he ruled that commissioners didn’t appear to violate a state law when they voted to place Question #2 before voters.
The Pahrump Town Board’s attorney argued that commissioners failed to make a public determination that the town board no longer served the best interests of the public. Lane said that determination was made obvious when a majority of the board of commissioners agreed to place the ballot question in the first place.
“It’s a very simple case. If the statute states that the board of county commissioners determines the best interests of the town are no longer served by a town board form of government, it may order the question be put on the ballot. They did order it to be put on the ballot. So the only issue is the one the attorneys have argued today, which is did the board determine that the interests of the town were no longer served?” the judge said.
“By voting for it, the commissioners were making that determination.”
Lane said both town and county attorneys could appeal his decision.
Richard Campbell, the Armstrong Teasdale attorney who argued on behalf of the town, declined to comment after the court proceeding. But two board members in the gallery said afterward that the decision whether to appeal would be taken up by the town board at a later date.
Town board members Harley Kulkin and Dr. Tom Waters said they were disappointed with the ruling.
“It should have been held in a different district. Anywhere but Nye County,” Kulkin said.
Waters said he thinks it’s a mistake to allow an advisory board to manage a town of more than 37,000 people.
“I wished the judge’s decision had been different. I think the town board is a very appropriate form of government for the town of Pahrump. We’re talking about over 37,000 people. Even when you look at the vote, 50.8 percent versus 49.2 percent, it’s almost 50-50. We hear over and over and over from people who voted to keep the town board — but they voted yes (because the wording of the question was confusing). That’s unfortunate,” he said.
Voters approved Question #2 by a razor-thin margin, 7,294 voters in favor versus 7,063 opposed.
The question was initiated by a July 3 vote by county commissioners who wished to place the item on the ballot. By August, the town’s contract attorneys were filing suit to stop the ballot question. By the time the issue got to court, ballots had already been printed and both sides agreed to revisit the issue after the election. After the vote, Lane ruled that the town could move forward with its complaint over whether commissioners violated the law when they placed the question without fully discussing the matter publicly and “determining” that the independent board no longer served the public. District Attorney Brian Kunzi answered those arguments, culminating in Monday’s hearing.
Though the county’s move to place the ballot question was billed as doing what’s best for the public, much of the arguments on both sides contained what amounted to snippets of personal and political strife among town and county officials rather than some practical problem harming the public in Pahrump.
Examining the record from the beginning, Commissioner Butch Borasky initiated the agenda item in July that led to the question. During that meeting he cited as his reason for making the motion that he witnessed “the arrogance and utter disdain for the public when they wanted to talk and that’s basically why I’m asking for this ballot question.”
He was joined by former commissioners Gary Hollis and Joni Eastley as well as current commissioners Dan Schinhofen and Lorinda Wichman in expressing dissatisfaction with the town board, but for mostly what appeared to be public slights. Kunzi highlighted some of these statements commissioners made then as evidence that indeed the board had “determined” that something needed to be done with the town board.
“Commissioner Schinhofen even says he’s convinced that the best interests of the town are not being served by this board. You then have Commissioner Borasky again talking about the arrogance and utter disdain that the town board has shown. And then you have Commissioner Eastley, who is specifically on the record talking about how appalled she is about some of the comments coming from the town board. It is clear that the record supports the fact that there was a determination made by the board,” he told the court at one point Monday.
After the hearing, Borasky said there were still questions about what happens to the town board moving forward.
“First of all this thing has to get cleaned up on appeals and whatever else they are going to do. Then we have to find out if there is any follow- up to this. It was my understanding that it might be required that we have a second vote of the people. But I’m not sure. I don’t think anybody has that answer yet. Or does it automatically revert to an advisory board? I am going to try to get clarification on this, exactly what happens, when it transpires,” he said.
Borasky added that he didn’t foresee any changes in town operations, such as with the fire department or parks and recreation once all of the questions are settled. If anything, he said, the town manager position would likely be eliminated.
“That position will probably go away.”