Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2014

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Las Vegas City Council to expand by two seats

Claiming they needed better representation in City Hall, Las Vegas voters narrowly approved a measure Tuesday to expand the City Council by two seats.

The expansion, which will cost more than $500,000 annually, now requires the city to study how to redistrict its current four wards to include two new wards.

The question passed with 25,303 votes in favor, or 54 percent, compared with 21,523 votes opposed, or 45.9 percent, according to unofficial vote totals.

Deputy City Manager Steve Houchens said the city will immediately hire a consultant to conduct the redistricting. Both the redistricting and the appointments must be completed by the end of the year, according to state law.

"It's the right move and the right direction," said the Rev. Jesse Scott, former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We lead the nation in growth, so why should we have one city councilman representing 115,000 people?"

Creation of the two new seats reduces from 110,000 to 77,333 the average number of constituents each council member represents.

The mayor will continue to be elected at large but will now be the seventh vote on the council. Appointments to the two new ward seats are expected by the end of the year.

City Manager Virginia Valentine said the city would have likely had to redistrict anyway without passage of the measure due to the continued population growth -- primarily in Ward 4.

The city's charter requires redistricting to keep the ward populations within 5 percent of each other.

City Councilman Arnie Adam-sen's loss to criminal defense attorney Oscar Goodman for mayor leaves Adamsen's council seat vacant.

City Council members Michael McDonald, Larry Brown and Gary Reese -- who was re-elected by the slightest of margins Tuesday -- will now have to work with Goodman to determine three appointments to the council in the coming months.

"It's going to be interesting," said City Councilman Michael McDonald about the pending redistricting.

Expanding the council has been a long-standing goal of leaders in the minority community who suggest having more seats could increase the chances for a minority to get elected to the now all-white board.

The City Council, however, has refused to approve any such expansion and even balked at initiating a study until the state Legislature began applying pressure to do so.

In 1997, state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, sponsored a bill that would have mandated the Las Vegas City Council expand by two seats. That measure failed but was replaced with compromise legislation, which "suggested" the council expand itself.

After learning that Neal intended to sponsor the same bill in 1999, the council created a committee late in 1998 to study whether the board should expand.

That Council Review Committee, which has since disbanded, met for several months to decide, among other things, whether the board should expand, whether its members should work full-time and whether a pay raise was in order.

The seven-member committee, chaired by Ron Portaro, recommended the council be expanded, as long as voters themselves agree to it by approving a ballot measure.

Although the council agreed to put the measure on the general election ballot, Neal again sponsored legislation during the recently-concluded session to force the council to expand.

As a compromise, the council agreed to make the advisory vote binding.

In the last 21 years, redistricting has occurred in Las Vegas six times -- in 1977, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1993 and 1996. In the last 10 years redistricting has resulted in West Las Vegas being moved from its longtime home in Ward 3 to Ward 1 and then back to Ward 3.

Redistricting in 1989 cleared the path for Frank Hawkins to become the city's first and only elected black city councilman. Two other blacks have been appointed to the council.

The council has never had an Hispanic or an Asian resident either elected or appointed to the board. Jan Laverty Jones was elected mayor in 1991, becoming the first woman to serve on the council.

"Changing from four to six does not guarantee a minority will be elected," Scott said. "But the mathematical odds are better."

The city's population is roughly 448,244. Ward 4 has the largest number of residents at 121,285 and growing. Ward 1 has the smallest at 102,193.

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