City seeking home rule

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By David Giuliani

The city of Las Vegas is looking for a few good Republicans. Or independents or Greens.

That’s because members of the City Council want to re-create its Charter Commission, which was formed a couple of months ago to make changes to the 39-year-old city charter, Las Vegas’ founding document. The city wants the commission to begin the process for Las Vegas’ home rule, and under state law, such a commission can’t have more than a simple majority of members of one political party.

As it stands, the  commission has six Democrats and one independent, not a surprising breakdown in a heavily Democratic community. This week, council members said they wanted to keep the existing members and add four more — all of whom must be non-Democrats — to make home rule a reality.

Those interested in applying for commission positions must do so by Tuesday, and they must be residents of the city. The council is expected to add the new members at its regular meeting Wednesday.

A couple of weeks ago, commission members told the council that the city should consider pursuing home rule. If the city didn’t do so, they said, it would be limited in what changes it could make to the charter. Indeed, 10-year-old charter amendments giving voters the right of referendum, initiative and recall should never have been added because the city doesn’t have home rule, they said.

Under home rule, a community can exercise any power or perform any function not specifically denied by state law or its own charter.

Matt Martinez, the commission’s chairman, told the council this week that the panel’s members have run into a “brick wall” because there was little they could do to change the charter without home rule. For instance, he said that without home rule, the city couldn’t have instant runoff elections, which would be held for the two top finishers in a race when no one gets more than 50 percent.

Martinez asked council members for their recommendations to the commission for changes to the charter.

Councilman Morris Madrid said he would like the commission to find a way to depoliticize positions such as city manager and department directors, possibly by giving them two-year contracts and making provisions for severance pay.

“Put everything on the table,” Madrid advised.

Councilman Cruz Roybal said he would like to see a requirement that the municipal judge be bilingual, while Feldman urged that the judge be an attorney at law, saying he wasn’t sure about a bilingual requirement.

Feldman said he agreed with Madrid’s idea for contracts for top city employees, contending that would promote stability at City Hall.

Mayor Tony Marquez pushed for random drug testing of elected officials, an idea he’s advocated for years. And he said he wouldn’t mind changing the status of positions such as city manager to classified, meaning they would have more protections than current top-ranking employees. He said giving such protections would be fine now that the city has a good team of administrators in place.

The mayor said the city was top heavy in administration.

Councilwoman Diane Moore said she would like the commission to examine the housing authority’s governance. Currently, the council is in charge of public housing, but officials over the years have recommended that a separate governing body be created.

Madrid asked that the commission look at changing the charter to create a separate board to oversee the council’s ethics. He said that when he was city manager, he witnessed ethical problems on the council that he didn’t report because a governing body can’t regulate itself.

The mayor said he would like to see a requirement that municipal candidates report their campaign finances, so the public can examine who are the contributors.

“This is a tremendous start,” Marquez told the Charter Commission.


At a glance

To become a Charter Commission member, contact the city manager’s office at 454-1401, ext. 222, for more information. Interested candidates must submit their names by Tuesday.

Current commission members:

Matt Martinez, chairman

Alex Aragon

Leith Johnson

Lucy Moya

Kim Delgado

Steve Gonzales

Leroy Martinez