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Population not good justification for moving county seat

There is a quote that goes something like, “Don’t f— with me fellas. This cowgirl has been to the rodeo before.” It is attributed to Joan Crawford and has been quoted by a number of politicians in various context.

This week it might apply to the front page headline in last week’s Times and News which read, “Group would like county seat moved.”

The story by Daria Sokolova says, “Some residents in Pahrump are working to restart the discussion of moving the Nye County seat from Tonopah to the county’s population center.”

And while this says a group is working on the idea, the story goes on to say that it was brought up by Pahrump resident Andy Alberti, “who pitched his plan to Nye County Commissioners.”

This isn’t “this cowgirl’s” first rodeo on the subject as it has been floated almost continuously since Pahrump became bigger than Tonopah sometime around when my family bought this newspaper in 1975.

The growth of our neighbor to the south cannot be denied and it has been many years since the voting precincts of Pahrump Valley had more population than the rest of the county combined.

But that has never been a good justification for moving the county seat and it is not one today.

The story went on to say how non-elected county officials pointed out many reasons why the county would not save money by moving the titular head of county government and they need not be recounted here (as they have been so many times in past years).

Although Tonopah is the longest serving county seat of Nye County—Nevada’s biggest and the third largest in the United States—it previously moved from Ione and Belmont before coming here at the start of the 20th century.

So another move would not be without historical precedent. But a move would be unpatrolled modern-day foolishness.

As someone who visits the local courthouse to pay taxes, takes in an occasional commissioners’ meeting or makes routine visits to justice and district court, I know the services which are provided here. I also know that Pahrump residents have all of the county services they need in their own backyard where most officials are headquartered and their offices are manned.

Long gone are the days when Pahrump residents came up here to register to vote, pay their taxes or serve on juries.

So I would support those quotes in last week’s story which pointed out in detail there would not be financial savings by moving the county seat. The only difference would be Pahrump residents would have the bragging rights of a county seat designation.

But what would that change mean to Tonopah? I know a little about that from personal experience and that is why “this cowgirl has been to the rodeo before.”

I harken back again to the period when the Roberts family purchased Central Nevada Newspapers from Ira Jacobson. This included the Reese River Reveille which, at the time, was the oldest continuously published newspaper in Nevada—it was in its 110th year or so when we bought it.

Headquartered in Austin, the Reveille existed because it served the county seat of Lander County. But it was only a short time after we bought the newspaper that we realized a concerted effort was underway to wrest the county seat from Austin and move it to Battle Mountain.

In that case, the northern county residents were being inconvenienced somewhat as they were summoned to jury duty in the county seat and had to travel 90 miles or so to attend county commission and school board meetings.

The battle continued for several years and Austin held on by its fingernails until one election when a bond issue to favor Battle Mountain school growth was defeated when virtually every vote cast in Austin went against the bond proposal.

It was not long before a special election was held to move the county seat and it passed by a wide margin as Battle Mountain voters wielded their strength in numbers and showed Austin who was boss, perhaps largely because of the previous school bond fiasco.

Not much changed at first. The Austin courthouse still had many offices open to serve local residents. But that has changed and dwindled over the years.

More importantly, the former county seat lost one of its major institutions—a local newspaper.

We operated the Reveille until a Battle Mountain resident (and shirttail relative) bought it. A former candidate for countywide office, he wanted to use the Reveille as a voice against the county establishment in Battle Mountain and its anti-Austin newspaper.

We sold to him and he folded the newspaper a short time later—another casualty of the county seat move.

Bill Roberts is a reporter and columnist for the Tonopah Times-Bonanza & Goldfield News, which used to be owned by his family.

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