North Las Vegas mayor, city leaders push back on bill to expand city council
A bill seeking to update the guiding document of North Las Vegas and expand the size of the city council exposed deep divides over leaders’ vision for the city and pitted two politicians who just months ago faced off to be its next mayor.
SB184 would seek an annual diversity audit of managerial positions, and would also expand the city council from four council members to six, shrinking each ward. North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown testified in opposition to the measure on Monday, three days after delivering a State of the City address that celebrated the city’s multicultural tenor and diversity among residents and leadership.
Proponents of the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), said that North Las Vegas leaders were tone-deaf or oblivious to the struggles experienced by certain demographics, because their wards are too large. They also said city leaders prioritize economic development, rather than what the city’s 278,000 residents need.
“While the city has done relatively well economically in recent years, it has also failed to modernize in many ways,” said Spearman, whose district covers most of North Las Vegas north of Craig Road.
Spearman, who lost the mayor’s race to Goynes-Brown in November, said the policy was inspired by a 2019 slogan used by the city of North Las Vegas that says “define us by our diversity, measure us by our numbers.” She said SB184 meets that challenge because it would increase transparency, accountability and interactions between residents and city officials.
She said by adding two additional city council members and reducing each council member's constituency, representation would be strengthened. The bill comes after Goynes-Brown, who ran a campaign focused on economic opportunity, came out victorious over Spearman, who promised to champion housing equity, in the race to become the state’s first ever Black mayor.
“If you want good policy outcomes, you need a council with a wide range of ideas and experiences,” Spearman said. “In fact, we are the most diverse city in the state and we need diverse voices to ensure all communities are represented and valued.”
Spearman said despite her past political aspirations, she does not have any interest in running for a seat on the North Las Vegas City Council should the bill become law.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) questioned if the bill represented possible state overreach, stating that any changes to the city charter should come from the North Las Vegas City Charter Committee and not legislators. Two members of the North Las Vegas City Council — Issac Barron and Ruth Anderson — reiterated those concerns, echoed in a letter signed by 18 mayors warning of “unintended” consequences of state lawmakers working around city charter committees.
But several members of the 13-member charter committee testified in support of the bill, including vice chair Sophia Romero, who said the committee was limited in their communications with city officials.
“We had requested to discuss additional topics,” she said. “We were not allowed this opportunity.”
Goynes-Brown said she would prefer to not expand the city council to avoid spending more money on politicians. North Las Vegas officials estimated that it would cost $1.5 million in the first year to implement the bill, including the costs to pay for additional council members, their aides and office supplies.
She said the change would force her to cut the funding for the future Dolores Huerta Resource Center, which would service North Las Vegas constituents, mainly Hispanic and Latino, with bilingual programming, community resources and cultural heritage.
“I am sorry, but our community needs these resources more than it needs to pay for more politicians,” she said.
Goynes-Brown asked lawmakers not to support the bill and to trust her to run the city.
But bill supporters questioned the city’s financial priorities, highlighting that high-ranking city administrators live outside the state, including an assistant city manager who now lives in South Carolina. The bill would mandate that appointed city administrators become a resident of North Las Vegas within 6 months of an appointment, to share what Spearman called the area’s “highs and lows.”
North Las Vegas lobbyist Leo Benavides pushed back and said that the change would work against diversity goals and cause hiring challenges.
In the last 10 years, North Las Vegas has grown its economic base through companies relocating to the area, according to KTNV-TV. The city’s median household income also grew in recent years from $59,835 in 2019 to $60,972 in 2020, a 2 percent increase.
Commenters who supported the policy included Quentin Savwoir, president of the NAACP Las Vegas, who said the bill expands democracy at a critical time.
Rev. Robert Bush, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Action Network and whose 85-year-old mother has lived in North Las Vegas, near Cheyenne Avenue and Civic Center Drive, since 1970, said the policy was necessary to make city leadership more inclusive. He said the council’s structure has remained unchanged since its incorporation in 1946, when the city had a population of fewer than 3,000 people.
“The question to me that we need to ask is why the North Las Vegas City Council does not see the value of proper representation?” Bush said. “The answer is simply, they don't want to and they won't ever do this bill themselves.”