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March 28, 2015

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Council weighs impact of Boulder City attorney ballot initiative

Boulder City

Boulder City Council members are looking at the financial repercussions of a ballot initiative submitted last week asking voters if the city attorney should be elected instead of appointed.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilman Cam Walker said an elected city attorney might try to sue the council if he or she disagrees with their actions.

He argued that the financial impact would be significant if council members were forced to hire outside attorneys to protect them from a politically motivated city attorney.

“A liability is created by an elected city attorney,” Walker said. “How are we (the council) covered as a public body?”

Councilman Travis Chandler, who helped obtain signatures on a petition for the initiative, said, “In the end, we have to trust the voters.”

Walker said electing a city attorney could place the city in the same position Gov. Jim Gibbons is in with Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto over the federal health care reform bill.

Gibbons hired outside attorneys to fight the bill while Cortez Masto is considering taking legal action against Gibbons, he said.

Councilman Duncan McCoy said he has disagreed with City Attorney Dave Olsen before and hired his own attorney. “We always can hire counsel and get a second opinion,” McCoy said.

Mayor Roger Tobler said hiring an outside counsel could result in having two attorneys on one issue. He asked staff to look at these special situations and bring back information about the hiring process.

Tobler said staff should also generate a report on the negative and positive financial impacts the initiative could have on the city.

The city attorney initiative was validated last week and will be placed on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. Because it is a charter amendment, it would have to be passed in two consecutive general elections before it would take effect.

Olsen has served as Boulder City’s attorney for 11 years. He said all of the city councils in Southern Nevada appoint city attorneys. The only two cities in Nevada that don’t are Reno and Sparks, he said.

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