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Nye County passes COVID resolution requesting lifting of pandemic restrictions

After making a multitude of changes to ensure the document would pass legal muster, the Nye County Commission unanimously approved a resolution emphasizing the struggles impacting its citizens in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and requesting that Gov. Steve Sisolak remove his emergency mandates to allow all businesses to operate normally once more.

The resolution, number 2021-03, was taken up during a special meeting of the Nye County Commission hosted Thursday, Feb. 4 and it came with a plethora of local support. There were nearly two dozen residents and business owners, and even a couple of Clark County residents, who spoke at the meeting, all of whom gave their wholehearted approval of the resolution, though some remarked that they wished to see the document contain “more teeth.”

Abundance of public comment

Area resident Robert Thomas III kicked things off on Feb. 4 by telling commissioners and the public that yes, he believes people need to take precautions in order to help avoid illnesses of all kinds but he also believes the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing more than a form of social control.

Dee Mounts of Battle Born Patriots asserted that prolonging the COVID-19 restrictions could result in utter ruin for the county. “We want to not make Nye County a ghost town, and that’s what going to happen,” Mounts stated. “Everybody’s going to lose everything they have ever worked for… and not be able to recover. If we open back up now, we can recover.”

Mounts then read a statement from Maria Cortez, the owner of El Cancun restaurant, who wrote that her very dreams are on shaky ground because of the COVID-19 emergency mandates. “‘I am pleading with you to open up our county, get rid of the governor’s illegal COVID directives and still have a chance to turn my business around and keep my dream alive, keep my home and feed my family,’” Mounts read on behalf of Cortez.

Gerald Butler then stepped up to the podium to speak on the rights guaranteed by the U.S. and state constitutions, which he argued should protect citizens from government overstepping its bounds in the manner he believes it has done so in the past year. Butler then emphasized that the mask mandate comes with exceptions for medical reasons, which he feels no one seems to take into consideration because they simply haven’t read the mandate. “If we’re not going to read the Constitution, if we’re not going to read the laws, then we no longer live in an American society,” Butler declared.

Dwight Lilly spoke next, asserting his belief that the governor has mismanaged the pandemic since the beginning and noting that in his opinion, “The ‘cure’ is worse than the disease, in the way that Gov. Sisolak is approaching this.”

Rosemary Johnson, a longtime resident of Pahrump, is now raising her child amid the pandemic and she expressed her horror at the fact that she must try to explain what is happening and why there are so many restrictions and new requirements placed upon not just adults but the children in the community. Johnson stressed that online learning is simply not working and that her child, along with all other children, needs to have social interaction. “You guys have to stop this mask stuff,” Johnson urged. “If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re afraid, stay home. I understand everybody has rights, but so does my kid and this has got to stop.”

Joey Gilbert, a lawyer in the Reno area who has been working with other rural counties that have been resisting the governor’s emergency mandates, then chimed in. He proclaimed that as he interprets the law, the governor’s actions are not only unreasonable but unconstitutional as well. “The response to COVID-19 has now done more damage to this state, and caused more non-COVID deaths, referred to as ‘excess deaths’, than the virus itself!” Gilbert stated, telling commissioners he felt the resolution should be made even stronger.

The public comments continued with Marge-Anne Venable explaining how the pandemic has hurt the beauty salon industry where beauticians and nail techs are only permitted to work on one client at a time, cutting their business in half, with Amanda Nichols echoing those statements. Cathy Girard, a local veteran, said she has had to listen to the stories of local business owners who are failing and she begged the commissioners to look not only at the lawfulness of what they were attempting to do that afternoon but to focus on doing what is right for the community as well. As a local restaurant owner, Melissa Blundo questioned, “How does one cover 100% of overhead when we can only have 25% occupancy?” and reiterated what others had said, remarking that she feels the restrictions are harming people far more than they are helping the situation.

New Pahrump resident Tony Cinelli, who said his background is in science, asserted that there is no science that shows that mask mandates or shutdowns are effective, because there have been no control groups established to provide a point of comparison, as would be required by the scientific method. “What we do know is, it’s destroying our businesses, it’s destroying our communities, it’s destroying our children… The damage that this is doing for the future is not even measurable at this point,” Cinelli stated, adding that people should also consider the precedent that is being set by allowing the governor to keep what were supposed to be temporary measures in place for so long.

Gary Helton of Clark County said he was considering expanding his business into Pahrump last year but then the pandemic hit and his growth was hampered. Helton also voiced his concerns with safety in light of the mask mandate, noting that masks make it very difficult to identify someone who is attempting to do harm while also making it much easier to conceal missing children. Michael Gilbert came forward with a well-known quote, telling everyone, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing,” while Tiffany Carter declared that her three boys have seen a sharp decline in their grades due to the distance learning initiated by the pandemic.

Trudy Kevoian, general manager of the Chicken Ranch Brothel, spoke about how the brothel industry has been shut down since March, 2020 and remains so today, asking commissioners to please advocate for that industry to be allowed to reopen. Cindy Lake, another new Pahrump resident, remarked that her family had moved to Pahrump in search of more freedom, not less. Annie Dugan detailed the hardships she and her husband have been facing, with him in the hospital and her unable to support him through what he has described as the hardest fight of his life. Richard Hill said he has seen no evidence that masks are helpful but he has seen evidence that masks can be harmful. Kay LaPointe and William Lovegren both added their support for the resolution before Alex Rodriguez of Clark County and Carmen Loveell brought the public comment to a close with their expressions of approval for the proposal.

Amendments to the resolution

Following the extensive round of public comments, Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, who sponsored the resolution, walked his fellow commissioners through a variety of amendments to address legal concerns expressed by the Nye County District Attorney’s Office. Some of the changes also softened the phrasing of the document, such as a switch from the word “demands” to “requests”, the insertion of the phrase, “It is in the opinion of the Nye County Commission,” in several sections of the resolution and the removal of entire lines containing some of the more controversial statements.

The first change Blundo requested called for the removal of a portion of the second statement of the opening to the resolution, striking, “…recognize the abuses inherent with a totalitarian government…” Next Blundo asked for the fifth “whereas” to be amended to read, “Whereas, the 9th Circuit held Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order limiting the capacity of churches violates our First Amendment rights to the free exercise of our religions…”

The sixth, eighth, eleventh, sixteenth and seventeenth “whereas” were then all amended to include “It is the opinion of the Nye County Commission that…” while the statements that begin with the twelfth and fifteenth “whereas” were removed in their entirety.

Moving on, Blundo requested an amendment to the statement that begins the resolution portion of the document, to read, “Now therefore be it resolved that the Nye County Commission’s opinion is that Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is failing to uphold his solemn pledge to ‘support, protect and defend’ the U.S. Constitution and urges him to correct his course by removing his orders restricting our local businesses and limiting the size of peaceful gatherings…”

Under the “be it further resolved,” portion of the resolution, Blundo suggested the word “demand” be changed to “strongly requests” in two sections and asked for the entire statement following the fifth “be it further resolved” to be struck. The final change, beside a few grammatical corrections, called for the removal of part of the final statement of the document, so it would read, “Be it further resolved, that Nye County recognizes its rights, as stated in our Declaration of Independence.”

Turning to the DA’s office, Blundo asked if the changes he suggested were enough to assuage the legal concerns and Nye County Deputy District Attorney Michelle Nelson confirmed that as amended, the resolution would now pass legal review. Blundo made the motion to amend and adopt Resolution 2021-03 which passed with all five commissioners in favor.

What it means for the community

As it is, the resolution is merely a statement of intent and as commissioner Donna Cox repeatedly pointed out, it is important to note that it does not authorize local businesses to resume their normal activities or allow area residents to forego adherence to the governor’s emergency mandates.

While it may not be legally binding, the document does have a specific purpose and that is to very publicly detail the Nye County commissioners’ positions on the matter and give voice to the frustrations shared by many in Nye County’s communities.

It is hoped that the words contained therein, and those heartfelt comments made during the Feb. 4 meeting, will reach Gov. Sisolak and prompt some kind of change, as had happened in Sept. 2020 when local bar owners and staff flocked to a commission meeting to outline the devastation caused by the closure of liquor establishments. Just days after the Sept. meeting, the bar closures were eased and commissioners are tentatively hopeful that this latest resolution will also spur the reduction of COVID-19 related restrictions.

The amended version of the resolution as passed by the commission was not available as of Tuesday, Feb. 9 but once all of the edits have been made and all five commissioners’ signatures are placed on the document, it will be posted to Nye County’s website for the public to review. The draft as originally proposed can be viewed by visiting www.NyeCounty.net and clicking on the “Meeting Center” link, following by the “agenda” link for the Feb. 4 commission meeting.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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