Whither North Las Vegas

These days, North Las Vegas could amend Charles Dickens:  it’s just the worst of times.  The question is what to do about them.  The answer appears both simple and impossible.

Recently, the financial news/commentary website 24/7 Wall Street published a list of the 10 best- and worst-run cities in America.  North Las Vegas made the bad list, at ninth.  The good news is that it’s better than Miami, Detroit, and Newark, which topped the list.  The bad news is that it’s there at all, thanks to a negative credit rating; an 18 percent poverty rate; the 15th lowest rate of adults who have graduated from high school; the housing market dropping by half; the North Las Vegas Housing Authority spending money unwisely; and 800 municipal government jobs frozen or gone.

So, this week, Mayor Shari Buck delivered her State of the City address and didn’t ignore all of the above, or the recent contested election in Ward 4 that was decided by one vote, or the budget deficits.  “But we have forged ahead and come out on top,” she said, pointing to the city’s first building to achieve the LEED environmental certification.  Unfortunately, that building is a new city hall on Las Vegas Boulevard North, a stone’s throw from the Silver Nugget.  Built for about 600 city employees, it houses about one-third of that number and the city hopes to rent some of the space.

Buck also pointed to the hiring of a new city manager, Tim Hacker, who has “fresh ideas and a calm yet decisive personality.”  One of his fresh ideas should be something suggested by a photo in the Las Vegas Review-Journal of Buck greeting Carolyn Goodman:  consolidating with the City of Las Vegas.

Once upon a time, consolidation was a favorite word in southern Nevada.  Mayor Oran Gragson, who served four terms in Las Vegas, looked into finding ways to streamline government in the 1960s.  Various groups studied how to combine services, if not governments, in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.  Out of those discussions, eventually, city and county law enforcement merged into the Metropolitan Police Department in 1973.  But not much else changed.

Gragson legitimately wanted change.  But he also felt pressure from two fronts.  One was other politicians who, understandably, didn’t want to eliminate their offices.  The other was from—you may have guessed it—North Las Vegas.  In 1961, the city hired a dynamic manager, Clay Lynch, who came over from Henderson, where he had shaken things up.  He hit North Las Vegas like an earthquake.  He floated bond issues.  He engineered a deal to build City Hall and a library on donated land.  He annexed parts of the county and fought Las Vegas to annex other parts.

Lynch’s hiring was due mainly to a new mayor, William Taylor.  But while Buck has presided over wild times, Taylor followed them—his predecessor had pushed to recall three council members and wound up inspiring the local VFW post to seek his ouster, and local businessmen began a petition campaign to get signatures to request annexation to the City of Las Vegas.  Taylor and Lynch took care of that.

Perhaps Buck and Hacker could be innovative in the opposite way.  North Las Vegas began as a settlement in 1919 as a libertarian refuge for those who didn’t like big government.  It isn’t as though, today, the City of Las Vegas dwarves its northern counterpart.  Do we still need separate municipalities?  If the City of North Las Vegas wants to solve its budget problems, one way to do it is not to have a budget at all.