By Selwyn Harris
The Pahrump Town Board is going to appeal Judge Robert Lane’s recent ruling on the question Nye County commissioners placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Board members agreed to pursue the action during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
On Nov. 7, both town and county officials learned that a majority of local residents had voted to disband the town board by a margin of 231 votes.
Last August, town attorneys filed a complaint against the county and the clerk’s office seeking an injunction to stop voters from considering Question 2.
The county sought to dismiss the complaint by insisting that the town board approved legal action against the body without properly noticing the public, which is a violation of the state’s open meetings law.
Just days before the election, Lane denied the county’s request to dismiss.
During this week’s meeting, Pahrump Town Manager Bill Kohbarger spoke about how the town may proceed with the appeal, which is expected to cost more than $29,000 in legal fees.
He made the point that the process must occur after Lane’s upcoming written decision rather than the oral decision the judge handed down on Feb. 4.
“Now that the decision has come down, we bring it back to you to go ahead and get permission to have the attorneys draft up an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. Once we get that final order of judgment, then we go forth and appeal and we need permission from the town board to appeal. He has already stated in open court his decision. Now he has to put it in writing and I don’t think he will change what he stated in open court,” he said.
Board member Amy Riches was the first to provide her thoughts on the agenda item, which she initially seemed to support.
“Prior to being elected, I stated if the will of the people were to be upheld and everybody decided to step down, I would step down and we would revert to an advisory board. I have since found out from Mr. Kunzi that that is not the case. We are going to be a town board for at least two more years. I was elected by the people to be on the town board whether it be for two or four years as a town board or advisory board. In my opinion, we have no choice but to appeal this. That’s my opinion and that’s why,” she said.
Board member Dr. Tom Waters elaborated on Lane’s decision articulating that the appeal process is a two-way street.
“I agree with Ms. Riches that people elected her and Mr. Dolan to a four-year term and not a two-year term, also Judge Lane recommended or encouraged an appeal by either party by stating ‘either side could appeal it up to the Supreme Court and they will make the final determination of the interpretation of that statute.’ He also stated, ‘that if I’m wrong in my analysis, and my interpretations are wrong then the Supreme Court will clarify it and correct it not only for our county but for other counties in the future.’ So I agree with Judge Lane and it should go to the state Supreme Court,” Waters said.
Town Board Vice Chair Bill Dolan concurred with his colleagues but had questions about how long the appeal process could take before a final decision is rendered.
“I agree with the comments here and I think it needs to go forward, but I’m just wondering from our council do we know how backed up the Supreme Court is and when this may be heard once it is filed?” Dolan queried.
He also wondered if the case could somehow be fast-tracked through the system.
Noting that the court routinely has much on its plate, town attorney Tracy Difillippo said it was decidedly uncertain when the case will be heard and much less when a decision could be made.
“With the Supreme Court it varies. It could be six months to two years before a decision is made. There are cases that we have that have been outstanding for at least two years and other cases have come back within six months. This is an important issue so you never know. There is not a process to expedite it because it goes through the normal processes. There are criminal appeals and family that may be expedited but this would not be an expedited matter that they would hear,” she said.
When speaking about the duties of the board and staff board Chair Harley Kulkin said he thought there were too many residents who are not familiar with the true responsibilities of the body.
“I feel very strongly that a majority of this community was ill-informed as to what the town is responsible for. I hear all of the time that the town did this and the town did that and I tell them no it is the county. They just don’t want to realize that the county is in charge of the things that they are upset with. I feel that if the community was knowledgeable about what’s really going on, that thing ballot question would have lost by a big landslide. Unfortunately, by state law the Town of Pahrump is not allowed to fight something like this in the public. We just sat by and allowed people to put out misinformation. That’s not what this suit is about, but I have to look for any opportunity I can to stop something I think was wrong in the first place,” he said.
Following Kulkin’s statement, Riches seemed to have a change of heart on the matter and reversed her initial decision to support the appeal.
“I was elected to do the will of the people and the will of the majority. The people voted and yes I do believe we should appeal it but I was put here to do the will of the people and for that reason and that reason only, I am going to vote no,” she said.
In the end, board members voted 4-1 to move forward with the appeal.
Riches was the sole dissenting vote.
The cost of litigating various issues within the Town of Pahrump is not cheap by any means.
Last year, The Town of Pahrump’s Invoice Accounting Report revealed that the town paid more than $55,000 in legal fees in just two months.
Attorney fees to fight grievances filed by the firefighters union against the fire department amounted to more than $15,000 in legal expenses.
More than $17,000 was spent on litigation fees for the dispute between the town and the Nye County Republican Central Committee, which last year threatened to perform a citizen’s arrest on the body.
As of last November, it was determined that the town racked up $15,462.04 to pay attorney fees for the latest round of court proceedings against the county over Question 2.