City ends lease after scrutiny

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By David Giuliani

The city of Las Vegas has terminated a grazing lease with a high-ranking city utilities employee after the deal came under scrutiny.

For months, Frank Davis, who lives in the Gallinas area, has criticized the city’s agreement to lease the land to Melvin Ortega, the city’s natural gas supervisor. He questioned why a city employee got the lease, saying he and others didn’t get a fair opportunity to bid on it.  

In a March 6 letter to the city, Davis’ attorney, Jeremy Jones, argued that last year’s bid process for the lease didn’t comply with either state law or the city’s own rules on how to handle such matters.

Both state law and city resolution state that a proposed public sale or lease should be published at least twice, not less than seven days apart. And the last publication shouldn’t be less than two weeks before the bid opening.

But Jones noted that the city’s publication dates were Aug. 28, Aug. 29 and Sept. 1, which weren’t seven days apart. And the last publication wasn’t 14 days before the opening of sealed bids on Sept. 11.

Jones requested that the city reissue the call for bids, saying that doing so would help the city avoid further embarrassment resulting from its failure to abide by its own rules.

“It will also afford the local community, rather than those select persons lucky enough to have positions working for the city, a full and fair opportunity to consider and submit bids for the lease at issue,” Jones wrote in his letter, which was addressed to City Attorney Carlos Quiñones.

Jones requested that the city inform him of its position by March 20. He said that if the city didn’t, he would request his client, Davis, compel the city’s cooperation through other available channels.

In a March 12 letter, Quiñones informed Jones that the city had terminated its lease with Ortega. But Quiñones said in a letter that he didn’t agree with Jones’ factual assertions, without elaborating.

Quiñones stated that the city reserved the right to begin the bidding process again or decide to keep the property without leasing it.

“We trust this addresses your client’s concerns,” Quiñones wrote.

The legal ads seeking bids last year didn’t include any information about where the parcel was or how many acres it included. When the Optic requested all public documents related to the issue earlier this year, none of them contained that information.  

The city later revealed that the property in question was 212 acres and is part of the city’s reservoir property near Gallinas, which is managed by the utilities department, to which Ortega belongs. The only person to submit a sealed bid was Ortega.

Ortega got the lease for $600 a year under the agreement, which could have been renewed for six years. He was able to graze four 1,400-pound horses there.

Davis, who owns land next to the grazing lease, said he struggled to get the legal description for the land.

Earlier this year, Councilman Morris Madrid questioned whether the city followed its procedures correctly. He said a location should have been provided in the legal advertisement.

“It doesn’t look like an arm’s-length transaction,” he said in a January interview. “It doesn’t appear to be in compliance with normal practice. Maybe the process should be undone and restarted.”