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City charter remains in question

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By Martin Salazar

One year after a majority of voters signed off on a new charter for the city of Las Vegas, its validity remains up in the air.

And with the new charter scheduled to take effect in a year, the mayor and city attorney are hoping to get the issue resolved once and for all.

The City Council is slated to take up the issue publicly at its meeting this Wednesday.

The city has hired local attorney Luis Juarez to prepare a petition asking a judge to issue a ruling on the charter, which essentially serves as the city’s constitution.

At issue is whether the new charter received the necessary percentage of votes to enact it.

Charles Rennick, the attorney the city hired to advise the citizens group that drafted the new charter, has said state law and the state constitution require only 50 percent for passage. But Danelle Smith, a local attorney and former city attorney, has argued that even though 56 percent of voters approved the new charter, that wasn’t enough for passage. She has said the city’s old charter requires a 60 percent super-majority for the passage of any amendments.

The new charter, if valid, would give mayors four-year terms, instead of two, and set up runoff elections to ensure that mayoral and City Council winners get at least 50 percent of the vote. It would also limit mayors’ and council members’ pay to $10,000 a year.

City Attorney Dave Romero said the petition being drafted by Juarez will likely ask a judge to consider all the facts and determine whether or not the charter is valid.

“The reason why we are even looking at asking for the validity of the charter is that one, it goes into effect next year. Two, it is better to know ahead of time whether your constitutional document has been passed correctly. Three, when the city makes decisions in accord with their charter, we want to make sure that there is no second guessing as to whether or not the charter changes were valid,” Romero said.

Romero said there is the possibility that the city may take no action with regard to the charter. “That is up to the governing body,” he said.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz told city councilors earlier this month that the city needs to resolve the issue as soon as possible. If the charter failed to get enough votes to pass it, he said, a committee needs to be formed to fine-tune it so that it can be presented to voters again.

Las Vegas resident Bruce McAllister wonders why it’s taking so long to resolve the issue.

Romero said part of the delay is due to the fact that the city wanted Rennick, the attorney who advised the charter committee, to defend his position that the charter is valid.

“But after some time he informed us he couldn’t because he was busy with other commitments,” Romero said.