Editor's Note - Challenging the charter

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By Tom McDonald

For crying out loud, the new city charter has been sitting there for two years, so why wait until after the Jan. 10 filing date to seek a summary judgment?

The answer, from the man who wants to challenge the new charter, is that he should have done it earlier, but since he didn’t, it’s better to do it now rather than after the March 6 municipal elections.

Of course, that man is Las Vegas City Council member Andrew Feldman, who was going to run for mayor but decided not to. Now, he’s opting to be a plaintiff instead, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding several issues he has with the new city charter.

I’m not going to use this space to dwell on the questions he’s raising about the charter. Suffice it to say there are some legitimate concerns about both the substance of the new charter itself and the process in which it was passed.

Instead, let me focus on the fact that Feldman — and everyone else, for that matter — had two years to challenge the new charter, but didn’t. The charter was passed by a 56-percent majority in March 2010, and almost immediately questions surfaced. But no one acted on those concerns until now.

The problem with now is that we’re only a little more than a month away from a huge election and a legal challenge muddies the entire process. Just three weeks ago, 17 people filed for three city offices under the presumption that the new charter would become effective with this current election.

Admittedly, I was not happy with Feldman’s decision to issue an 11th-hour challenge. I think the new charter has some valuable improvements for our city government — especially the runoff provision, which would ensure majority elections rather than simple pluralities. Without the runoff,  for example, a single candidate could win this year’s mayoral election with a mere 12.6 percent of the vote.

Does anyone really think that would be democracy in action?

Clearly, this matter of the charter’s legitimacy should have been resolved long before this year’s filing date.

I took my consternation directly to Feldman.

“I should have done it earlier,” he said. “We made a mistake. ... But it’s better to do it now than later.”

OK, but the timing of it begs the question: Is this simply a last-minute political maneuver to disrupt one or more candidacy?

Feldman denied any political motivation behind his decision. Instead, he said he’s concerned about the stability of city government if questions about the city charter aren’t resolved in court before taking effect. The election itself, as well as any subsequent actions taken by any new mayor and council, could be contested after the fact, simply on the argument that the city charter was illegally passed. We need that resolved, Feldman insisted.

(Feldman also said that same concern about stability in city government is what motivated him to vote in favor of contracts for the city’s department heads and city attorney — matters that were passed by divided votes at recent council meetings.)

All that said, a legal challenge to the charter is not yet a done deal. Even though city attorney David Romero said its an administrative decision that doesn’t require council approval, Feldman wants it anyway. Plans are for attorneys Danelle Smith to represent the plaintiff (Feldman) and Luis Juarez to defend the charter’s passage for the city.

They’ve agreed to do so for $5,000 each, and Feldman contended that such a city expenditure should have council approval. Therefore, he’s not willing to take the matter into court without a vote of the council.
That could be tricky. Two mayoral candidates may become involved in that council decision. If council members deadlock in their vote, Mayor Alfonso Ortiz, who’s seeking re-election, will be in a position to cast the deciding vote. That hardly seems fair to me.

I think Ortiz and councilor Tonita Gurulé-Giron, also a candidate for mayor, should recuse themselves from the vote. After all, their personal and political interests in this issue is obvious. But I’ll bet they won’t, because around here, politics taints everything.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com or 505-425-6796, ext. 237.