North Las Vegas Fighting its Own Mistakes

The city of North Las Vegas as we know it could cease to exist.  It probably won’t.  That will be good and bad.

City Manager Tim Hacker says the city faces a $33 million deficit.  The city invoked a state law allowing the suspension of collective bargaining agreements in case of an emergency—i.e., a “riot, military action, natural disaster or civil disorder.”  North Las Vegas hopes Nevada District Court Judge Nancy Allf will set aside an arbitrator’s ruling requiring that the city reimburse police officers who had to pay for their medical benefits when their contract had called for the city to cover them in full.  A North Las Vegas councilwoman said the city might have to close its jail to save money.

The easy way out is to blame public employee unions for accepting these contract offers from the city.  Oddly, these claims tend to come from the same people who would criticize, say, a consumer for suing a fast food outlet for serving high-calorie food. 

The chances aren’t good that North Las Vegas will be able to abrogate the contracts, since its government is a “disaster,” but not a “natural” one, and in a state of “disorder,” but not necessarily “civil.”  But we might learn a few things from this:

We know too little about North Las Vegas.  Not just historically, though that’s true of much of Nevada’s history.  Rather, North Las Vegas doesn’t get much media attention except when something like this happens.  For many years, the Review-Journal and Sun covered it as part of a “suburban” beat that included Henderson and Boulder City.  That was when many of the problems now afflicting North Las Vegas actually became problems.  It speaks volumes that the R-J had to peel off a reporter from an important higher education meeting to cover what was happening in North Las Vegas.  And none of that is meant as a criticism of either publication, beyond their history of being short-staffed.

Rob Lang of Brookings Mountain West has written recently on the city, and that’s a starting point.  But we need to know more about how North Las Vegas got to this point, what it did that was the same as or different from other jurisdictions, and whether it can happen to them, too.

It’s easy to give blame but almost impossible to distribute it properly.  For many years, North Las Vegas politics has suffered (and maybe at times benefited) from a strange set of divisions.  One was between conservative Mormons and more moderately inclined Democrats, with some dancing back and forth.  Another was between downtown and the newer areas to the northwest.  Still another involved African-Americans and Hispanics, sometimes united and sometimes disunited, in relation to whites.

But for many years, the police union worked hand-in-glove with certain members of the council, especially Mary Kincaid, later more famous as a county commissioner jailed in the “G-Sting” scandal, and her allies.  Other unions and public employees were far less politically important.

Now we see the value of business management and mismanagement.  Before Mayor Shari Buck there was her close ally Michael Montandon, like her a Mormon Republican and long involved in
construction and, more recently, banking.  Before him there was Jim Seastrand, a Mormon Democrat who was behind Vegas Village, a long-defunct market where a budding historian used to ride shopping carts up and down the aisles.  Businesspeople have claimed from time immemorial that putting them in charge of government will lead to greater efficiency and wiser spending.  It wasn’t lifetime public employees who decided to build a new North Las Vegas City Hall or sign those union contracts.