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carson city:

Supreme Court sides with council in city hall battle

Updated Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 4:49 p.m.

CARSON CITY – Voters in next week’s Las Vegas municipal election won’t decide whether the city should pursue plans for a new city hall.

The Nevada Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, ruled that petitions bearing 14,000 signatures were defective and should not be placed before the voters.

But the court, in the decision written by Justice James Hardesty, said the Las Vegas City Council improperly refused to place the initiative petition and the referendum on the ballot.

“In the future, should the city council believe that a ballot measure is invalid, it must comply with its statutory duty to place the measure on the ballot, and it may then file an action in district court challenging the measure’s validity,” said the court.

The Las Vegas Taxpayer Accountability Committee and the Las Vegas Redevelopment Reform Committee, backed by the Culinary Union, gathered 14,000 signatures on two petitions to put the issues before the voters on June 2.

The council refused to include it on the ballot.

The two groups filed suit. District Judge David Barker ruled the petitions were legally deficient and should not be on the ballot. An appeal was made to the Supreme Court, which agreed to speed up the case and said it took into account judicial economy and efficiency in considering the case.

The city plans a lease-purchase arrangement to build the city hall. Supporters of the project estimate its cost at $150 million but opponents say it will cost $267 million.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has led city officials’ PR battle against the Culinary, said the court’s decision will allow redevelopment to continue downtown.

"Because we have prevailed, our community will continue moving to a new level with wonderful projects like the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts," the mayor said in a prepared statement. "This ruling will allow Las Vegas to be the world-class city we all envision."

The Culinary Union issued a statement, saying that the city should heed the support it gathered for the disqualified ballot measures despite their being disqualified.

“We are clearly disappointed in today's decision by the Supreme Court, and we believe it is unfortunate that voters will not have an opportunity to vote on these important issues. Nevertheless, the Las Vegas City Council should listen to the call of 14,000 voters of Las Vegas who oppose the proposed City Hall, and the use of redevelopment money to subsidize strip clubs and developers. Given that the City of Las Vegas is fast approaching bankruptcy, we continue to believe that doubling the debt of the city to build a $267 million City Hall is inappropriate.

“While the Supreme Court rejected our initiative and referendum on narrow technical grounds, we believe voters want reform of the Las Vegas City Council and Redevelopment Agency.”

There is only one election race on the election ballot next week and city officials said it would have cost an extra $450,000 to add the question to the ballot.

The court said the council and the city clerk “had a ministerial duty to place the measures on the ballot once the city clerk had confirmed that they had sufficient signatures…”

Hardesty wrote that nothing in the law grants the council the authority to withhold the petitions. And it can go to court to challenge the language in the petitions.

The court upheld Judge Barker who ruled the initiative petition was defective because it contained more than one subject. It involved a lease-purchase agreement and redevelopment plan.

The court said “the single-subject requirement helps to promote informed decisions and to prevent log rolling.” The court also affirmed Judge Barker’s decision that the referendum was misleading.

Hardesty wrote, “The proposed referendum’s statement of effect, which states that passage of the referendum would merely result in the prevention of additional development projects under the redevelopment plan, is inadequate under the law, as it fails to accurately inform the voters that the referendum’s passage would also affect current and existing projects and debts incurred thereby.”

The court concluded its 28-page opinion by saying the “city council had a duty to place the measures on the ballot, regardless of its objections to the measures’ substantive validity.” If the council objects, it can file a suit in the district court and ask for an expedited decision.”

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