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July 5, 2015

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Unions target incumbent Richard Cherchio in NLV council race

Police, firefighters make vocal push to oust councilman

Richard Cherchio

Richard Cherchio

North Las Vegas’ Ward 4 City Council race is as much a contest between incumbent Richard Cherchio and local unions as it is between Cherchio and challenger Wade Wagner.

The city’s police and fire unions have waged a brutal campaign against Cherchio, one that will test the bargaining units’ power and likely shape future elections across the Las Vegas Valley.

Simply put, the unions want to oust Cherchio because he has called for public safety layoffs if union concessions aren’t made to aid North Las Vegas, which faces a $30 million deficit. The unions say they have agreed to millions in concessions, and further cuts will harm residents.

Cherchio says the unions are being greedy and unreasonable, and their leaders care only about protecting members’ incomes and benefits. An example he cites: Police and firefighters, most of whom don’t live in North Las Vegas, suggested a property tax increase to generate added revenue needed to cover their salaries.

The race’s outcome directly affects North Las Vegas residents but might have wider implications as municipalities throughout Clark County negotiate with public employee unions. A Wagner victory could highlight the power of unions and embolden them. A Cherchio victory could put them on notice that their political might goes only so far.

Cherchio is the first council member targeted by police and fire officials. Members say they hope to go after Councilwoman Anita Wood next.

“It really comes down to control. It doesn’t matter who you are. Anybody who says no to them winds up being a target,” Cherchio said.

Wagner and union leaders say police and firefighters are doing their part. Police have agreed to three major concessions in two years.

“The (firefighters) just came up with a 5 percent pay reduction,” Wagner said. “I think everyone realizes they have to tighten their belts.”

But the unions are campaigning against Cherchio, issuing attacks that have crossed legal and ethical lines.

They distributed a flier showing a masked intruder with a crowbar smashing a window. It says crime in North Las Vegas spiked 50 percent because of policies implemented by Cherchio.

In fact, crime has not jumped 50 percent and is down in many neighborhoods, according to the police department.

A flier paid for by the police union’s political action committee claims criminals want voters to choose Cherchio because he “voted for an ill-conceived plan that allows criminals to get out of jail two and three times faster than before. He has increased credits for inmates to $200 per day served.”

But the plan was an administrative decision, not made by City Council vote. A judge raised the credits inmates receive to counteract overcrowding. Most of the prisoners affected committed traffic violations.

Another set of mailers accuses Cherchio of approving $150 million in spending for a new City Hall and $295 million on a water reclamation project. Both votes were taken two years before Cherchio was appointed to the council in 2009.

A lawyer for Cherchio’s campaign warned the unions to stop making the claims or face a defamation suit.

The unions also came under fire for not complying with election law. Their PACs did not file expense and contribution reports as required and were found guilty by Secretary of State Ross Miller. He fined the police PAC $1,375; the case against the firefighters’ PAC is unresolved.

A Cherchio supporter filed a second complaint with Miller’s office, accusing the unions of violating campaign law by donating more to Wagner’s campaign than allowed under contribution limits. During the primary, more than half of Wagner’s contributions came from union sources.

Union officials stand by their ads and say their failure to file financial reports on time was a calendar mix-up. They insist they aren’t out to get Cherchio, they just favor Wagner’s focus on public safety.

“You need to prioritize in life,” Police Officers Association President Mike Yarter said. “I don’t think that parks, libraries and some of the other frivolous spending at City Hall are priorities. Public safety is the priority. Without that, all the other stuff is inconsequential.”

But an email sent by a union representative in September seems to support the claim that police leadership planned to target any council member who threatened its livelihood.

“The PAC recommended the union spend up to $100,000 (in a campaign) if a City Council member votes to lay off officers,” the email reads.

Yarter said the woman who wrote the memo no longer works for the department or serves on the board. He would not comment further.

The vigorous campaigning by the unions has led some to worry about Wagner’s independence if he is elected. Will he feel the need to “repay” the unions, they ask.

Wagner said he makes only one promise to residents: “My door will be open and you can come in and talk to me anytime.”

Cherchio doesn’t buy it.

“The union heads are scaring people to protect what they have,” Cherchio said. “If the wrong person gets in this seat, over the next fours years I can assure you that public safety will dominate and all of the other services we provide — clean parks, code enforcement, working streetlights — will fall by the wayside. There just isn’t enough money to do it all.”

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