By Vernon Robison
An interesting news item came out of Nye County last week. Apparently, there is a movement afoot in the town of Pahrump to disband its elected town board and set up, in its place, a town advisory board; similar to the boards we have here in this community.
On Tuesday, July 3, the Nye County Commission voted unanimously to allow a question to be placed on the November general ballot asking Pahrump voters to decide whether they want their town board dissolved. In calling for the vote, the Commission was responding to a petition from a group of Pahrump residents who had been at odds with members of their elected town board over various issues in recent weeks.
It is important to note that the Pahrump Town Board is entirely different than the two Town Advisory Boards (TABs) which serve here in this community. First of all, the Pahrump Town Board is an elected board. To obtain their seats on the board, candidates must actually campaign and win a majority vote in a full-fledged election. Members of our local TABs, on the other hand, are appointed by the County Commission.
When we have had Commissioners that are mindful of maintaining home rule, local voters have been granted the privilege of performing an informal straw poll to select TAB members. In those times, the Commission would respectfully honor that poll and appoint the preferences of the community to the TAB. Unfortunately, under our current leadership, that hasn’t happened for several years. Instead, in more recent times, the Commissioners have just unilaterally appointed whoever they felt was best for us here.
Another key difference between the two is that, in Pahrump, the Town Board actually has some real local governing power. It is capable of passing town ordinances and of ruling on zoning requests for the town. In addition it has some limited power in appropriating its own public funds. The Pahrump Board actually has budgetary oversight of a few basic community services including things like parks, a paid fire department, the town swimming pool and the cemetery.
By contrast, our local TABs have no real authority to make decisions. They don’t have the final authority to approve zoning items, pass local ordinances or appropriate public funding of any kind. Any action taken by our TABs is considered merely non-binding advice to the Commissioners. The Commission is then free to either take that advice, or leave it. Sometimes the Commissioners have taken it. Often, though, they have left it.
Given all of this, it seems unfathomable, at least at first blush, why the good people of Pahrump would actually seek to dissolve their local board. On closer inspection, however, there may be a good argument for such an action that suits their specific situation.
Pahrump is the largest population base in the sprawling, rural Nye County. The community, which is about sixty miles west of Las Vegas, is home to 37,000 people. That population number makes up roughly 83% of the population of Nye County as a whole. Under the recent redistricting process, Pahrump voters will be selecting four out of the five Nye County Commissioners. Thus, though it is true that the Nye County seat is more than 150 miles away in Tonopah, the collective heart of the County Commission will be closer than ever to the voters of Pahrump. The town will be assured of having its local interests well represented at the County level. One could argue, then, that the Pahrump Town Board is just a needless layer of government that ought to be disbanded. Despite this argument, it is still likely to be an uphill battle for proponents of this measure to convince a majority of the voters to give up their in-town local government body.
But Moapa Valley is in a completely different situation. The upper and lower Moapa Valley communities have a total of 3,785 registered voters. By contrast, the total number of registered voters in Clark County is 690,357! That leaves the greater Moapa Valley community exerting only about one half of 1% of the county vote.
Of course, the Clark County Commission has traditionally allowed the representative commissioner to take the lead for issues in his/her district. That commissioner usually sways the votes of the other commissioners on the board on such issues. Thus perhaps a more relevant statistic might highlight the number of votes that the Moapa Valley exerts in respect to the rest of District B. But alas, that picture doesn’t improve matters much. With 105,186 registered voters in District B, this community only pulls a little more than 3% of the district’s vote.
All this puts the Moapa Valley into a tight spot in regards to its representation in local government. Our collective influence on the makeup of the County Commission as a whole; and even on the one Commissioner representing District B; sadly, doesn’t amount to much. The fact is, we are compelled to accept whatever representation a much larger urban voting block thrusts upon us.
At worst, that is a County Commissioner who is more interested in representing urban special interests than in upholding home rule and listening to rural constituents. At best, we might get a representative who is committed to the concept of home rule, allows the community the privilege of selecting its town advisory board members and then listens to the advice that comes from them.
But even then, we only have the ear of one commissioner out of a seven member board. If the interests of the 99.5% of Clark County ever fall at odds with the few votes carried by Moapa Valley, it’s clear that we wouldn’t stand a chance; even if the matter being debated was largely a local issue.
No doubt the state laws enabling elected town boards for towns like Pahrump were enacted as a remedy to the vast distances required of those residents to reach their county seat. But while Pahrump is separated from its county government by significant mileage, we in Moapa Valley are separated by much more. The powerful political elements that isolate Moapa Valley from its local government are more difficult to surmount than any long drive on a lonely Nevada highway. This very real separation ought to make this community every bit as eligible for an elected town board as any other far-flung small town in the state.
So while Pahrump is about to consider discarding an arguably superfluous layer of government, we in Moapa Valley still find ourselves lacking an important link that is needed to bring us true and fair representation in our local government. In recent years our community has determined that the timing is not yet right to seek incorporation in forging that missing link. But such a link may yet be provided for in chapter 269.016 of the Nevada Revised Statute. There it sets forward the detailed means by which elected town boards may be organized and authorized in the state.
While Pahrump is occupying itself this year with the possibility of discarding its elected town board, perhaps Moapa Valley can find some treasure in their throw-away. Maybe this community should be exploring the option of securing itself at least a measure of home rule through the establishment of an elected, rural town board.