By Selwyn Harris
Pahrump Town Board members formally confirmed their intentions to sue Nye County and Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino on Tuesday — though a suit was already filed back in August.
Town officials agreed by a 3-1 margin to challenge what they say is the county’s apparent failure to follow state law in the placement of a ballot question calling for the elimination of the town board for next month’s general election.
Board member Mike Darby voted against the ratification.
Tuesday’s vote was preceded by a July 24, town board public vote to initiate the lawsuit against the county.
Pahrump Town Attorney Bret Meich declared the county’s position against the town has no merit at all.
“This action will remove one of the county’s arguments from the court’s consideration,” he said.
In July of this year, Nye County District 4 Commissioner Butch Borasky authored a Board of County Commissioners BOCC agenda item that would allow voters to decide whether they want the Pahrump Town Board to continue as it is or be transformed into an advisory board.
The item was applauded by most of the audience members during the meeting.
The rift between both entities began when Borasky said he noted an air of arrogance surrounding some town board members, who he chose not to identify.
He said he reached that conclusion after observing some of the town board meetings this year.
Borasky said that by and large, he thought the town board was not really responsive to the public’s views.
The commissioner was referring to the town’s decision this summer to eliminate public comment on each and every agenda item as they came up.
The public, however, is allowed to speak prior to action agenda items and just before meetings adjourn.
The change in procedure stemmed from some of the marathon sessions the town board was presiding over earlier in the year.
During the July 3 commission meeting, Borasky said that it was a very difficult decision for him to author and place the item on the agenda because he supported the town board, but numerous emails and phone calls to his office by residents who want the town board dismantled prompted him to move forward with the action.
District 2 Commissioner Joni Eastley initially told her fellow commissioners that she would not support placing the question on the ballot and would not vote in favor until she read a quote from Town Board Chair Vicky Parker in the Pahrump Valley Times referencing a “money grab” by the county at the expense of the town.
“A town board member’s responsibilities to the people they represent are no different than ours. Town board members or the town board itself, one of their responsibilities is to oversee the town’s budget process and revenue allocations and I was really dismayed,” Eastley said at the time.
Another point of contention surrounding the town versus county issue was the use of petitions organized by the group Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community.
Incidentally, the organization attempted to recall Borasky nearly three years ago when he supported the construction of the Southern Nevada Federal Detention Facility on East Mesquite.
The group presented 1,725 signatures to the clerk’s office requesting the ballot question.
Merlino advised commissioners that the petition was presented as a referendum; not an initiative.
Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi pointed out that an initiative proposes a new law or ordinance while a referendum sought to repeal an existing law or draw into question an existing law.
While the petition signatures were adequate for a referendum, Kunzi said he considers the petitions an initiative, calling for a new law, which requires more signatures.
Eastley, meanwhile, said the issue was a moot point because the county has the authority to put the question on the ballot if the board determines the best interests of the town are no longer being served by a town board form of government.
Though Town Board member Dr. Tom Waters said he supported the opportunity for residents to vote on the question, he said he found the procedure the commission followed disturbing.
In an email to the Pahrump Valley Times, Waters used a metaphor suggesting that both the town board and the county and lawmakers were all “poetic equivalents.”
“In a unique way, the Pahrump Town Board, Nye County Commissioners, and the State Legislature could be compared to the human body. Each part of the body has a specific function and without each body part, the body itself suffers. If any disease is found, we have the option to heal it. In ‘government,’ however we have the right and option to vote and by doing so, we are attempting to ‘heal’ or address the needs of our community.
“Few people shoot themselves in the foot because they have a headache. Let us address our needs through the proper channels without shooting ourselves in the foot which would destroy our local government,” the email stated.
The Pahrump Town Board oversees the day-to-day operations of just a few agencies in town including the fire department, area parks and Chief Tecopa Cemetery.
If voters pass the ballot question to dissolve the town board, the jobs of town staff and Town Manager Bill Kohbarger will be at risk of being eliminated.
Moreover, the same people who are seated now will still remain there if they choose but they may only make recommendations to the county commissioners, who will then take final action. Sources have indicated that the remaining members could be recalled shortly after the November election, which would allow commissioners to appoint people who better reflect their interests. It is unclear whether this is under serious consideration.