28 March 2023
The Nevada Senate Government Affairs Committee is considering a bill that would create significant changes to the charter of the City of North Las Vegas. Senate Bill 184 was introduced by Sen. Pat Spearman without the endorsement of the city. It was presented Monday, March 27, and it seeks to increase the number of wards and city council members of the city, it imposes residency requirements for certain city officers, and it revises the duties and powers of the city attorney among other changes.
Whether or not the ideas proposed in the bill are worthy, the intention to change the city’s charter in this manner is bad for Nevada. Decisions regarding the construction of a city charter should be made by the residents of that city. The residents best know if their city is performing in a manner that is responsive to their community, cultural and service needs.
Local government is the most trusted form of government, according to surveys relied upon by Deloitte and the National League of Cities. This is because local elected officials are more accessible and accountable to their constituents compared to state or federal lawmakers.
City councils meet twice per month to refine and modify ordinances to ensure that they achieve the intended result without unintended consequences. At these meetings, residents and stakeholders are able to speak directly to their city councils to help shape existing or proposed legislation. This process facilitates accountability and responsiveness of the elected council to its residents.
In contrast, the Nevada State Legislature meets every other year for 120 days in Carson City. This is an abstraction for most Nevada residents, which significantly undermines resident participation. Additionally, a well-intentioned bill could have significantly harmful unintended consequences that cannot be addressed for two years.
The state Legislature is not suited to address matters of local concern, and they know it. For this reason, in 2015, the Legislature enacted NRS 268, which is a Nevada statute that defines and outlines matters that should remain in the purview of local governments. The state does have the power to act unilaterally to alter a city’s charter, but it should not do so in this case because North Las Vegas has a well-functioning elected body and because a city’s charter is firmly a matter of local concern.
This extensive overreach creates the precedent for incursions in local matters throughout the state. It is North Las Vegas today, but it could be your city or your county tomorrow. It may not be your city’s charter, but it could be decisions regarding land use, zoning, hiring practices or any of a number of local matters.
The Legislature proved that it was willing to trespass in these local areas during the 2021 legislative session with the passage of laws requiring cities to provide zoning for tiny homes, short-term rentals and compensation restrictions for the professional staff of cities.
This overreach is improper, just as it is improper for the federal government to impose state statutes in Nevada. Just as it is clear that Nevadans are best equipped to make decisions about what is best for Nevadans, the residents of North Las Vegas, its mayor and city council are best equipped to make decisions about what is best for North Las Vegas.
The Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities has submitted a letter in opposition to SB184 to the committee, which was endorsed by the mayors of each of Nevada’s incorporated cities except for the City of Reno.
If state legislators want to affect local ordinances and city charters, there is a principled way to proceed. They are welcome to approach city councils and county commissions and make their proposals. They are encouraged to partner and collaborate with local elected officials to craft legislation that achieve results that are consistent with the best interests of the residents of cities and counties.
Contact the Senate Government Affairs Committee and tell them that SB184 is bad for Nevada. It can be reached at 775-684-1474 or [email protected].
Wesley Harper served as the executive director of the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities from March 2020 to March 2023. Prior to that, Harper served as the technology commercialization high growth manager for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2013.
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