Behold the clean slate of the new year. Listen to the hope in the people’s voices as they strive for health and prosperity, for brighter days and blooming relations.
Then turn your attention to downtown, where a dissonant strain continues to groan from City Hall. The year may be new on the calendar, but it’s monkey business as usual as the Las Vegas City Council and staff continue to feel the painful and increasingly costly effects of the protracted debate over the future of the now-decrepit Badlands Golf Course inside the Queensridge neighborhood.
For those new to town, this nasty fight has roiled since 2015 when EHB Cos. CEO Yohan Lowie purchased the property and proposed converting part of the then-verdant course into an upscale condominium project. He closed the course in 2016 and let it go fallow.
The ensuing fight is setting unofficial records for low blows with more than a dozen lawsuits filed and nine naming the city as a defendant.
On the seven-member council, however, the math is simple enough. Four votes are needed to approve the development unless an ethical conflict is established. To date, the best efforts of Lowie’s lawyers have failed to disqualify the developer’s staunchest critics, Steve Seroka and the retiring Bob Coffin, on ethical grounds.
Federal court has been unkind to Lowie. In October, U.S. District Judge James Mahan denied a request to issue an injunction that would prevent Seroka and Coffin from voting, saying that to do so would “harm public interest.” In December, Mahan dismissed with prejudice four Lowie claims against the council members.
By then, however, former Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman and the political mechanics at Laborers Local 872 had already begun monkey-wrenching a recall effort of Seroka.
By any reasonable measure, this isn’t a standard city hall dustup. While lawsuits aren’t unusual when parties are in dispute, and the city has litigated its share, informed sources confirm the Badlands battle continues to take a toll on the comity that has generally existed on the council. It may not help to have Local 872 recording secretary Lou DeSalvio serving as Councilwoman Michele Fiore’s appointee on the city planning commission.
Instead of reaching out in the spirit of the new year, or at least that of smart politics, the warring sides are said to be digging in for a new campaign. One knowledgeable official recently estimated the costs to the city for outside attorneys will soon top $1 million.
Unlike other petition recall drives, the traditionally low voter turnout in city elections means not all that many signatures are required to force a recall. In the case of Seroka, as The Indy has reported, only 1,850 active Ward 2 voters need sign.
The first person in line to challenge Seroka for his seat is likely to be Seaman, who sounded like a Lowie publicist in a web post: “Two years have now passed since Mr. Seroka was elected and the situation is now worse than ever. It seems every week, Steve Seroka gets us, the City of Las Vegas taxpayers, in even more trouble with more lawsuits. Last I counted there were over a dozen suits, ranging from District Court, to Federal Court to the Supreme Court. Now, a neighborhood controversy has become a crisis for the entire city.”
Not exactly fair and balanced, but at least she’s not hiding her intentions.
And with Tommy White’s Local 872 participating in the effort, she’ll have a street fighter in her corner. On social media White has been promoting “Recall Corrupt Councilman Seroka” signs and a stopseroka.com website.
White has assured skeptics he’ll use his rank-and-file troops in any political battle — even those waged by organized labor antagonists — if it means construction jobs for the membership. It’s difficult to tell just how many Local 872 jobs might be created by even a condo development.
It’s nothing new for union bosses to wield their political clout on behalf of an ally or against an enemy, but the high-profile White has been downright hyperactive with campaign contributions — and now he’s crowing about the Seroka recall effort. It makes you wonder: who is paying for the local’s efforts, this time? If White’s not careful, people are going to begin to suspect he’s a hired political gun playing fast and loose with the Taft-Hartley Act.
If you thought White was too busy running Local 872 and addressing protracted civil complaints accusing him of everything from union election tampering to civil rights violations, you’d be wrong.
The worst news about this new-year’s mess?
As one City Hall insider recently put it, “There’s no end in sight.”
John L. Smith is an author, Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame inductee and longtime columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith