Monday, June 7, 2004 | 9:24 a.m.
Residents in the area of Russell Road and Eastern Avenue near McCarran International Airport were angered to learn of a Wal-Mart Supercenter that had been approved for a 20-acre parcel near their homes. They envisioned tens of thousands of cars entering and leaving the discount retailer's parking lot. Two dozen of them confronted the Clark County Commission last week, asking how could this be happening when the neighborhood was already overwhelmed with traffic. Also confronting the County Commission was an official from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who was predictably and hotly opposed to the approval for the anti-union Wal-Mart.
Why did you approve this Wal-Mart? was the collective question of the day for the commissioners. Shockingly, their collective answer was, "We did?" Commissioner Myrna Williams affirmed the confusion. "I didn't know Wal-Mart was part of that agreement," she said. "None of us did." The agreement was for the lease of county-owned land managed by the county's Aviation Department. It was approved March 16 as part of the County Commission's consent agenda, which normally consists of routine, noncontroversial items that are bundled together so they can be quickly passed with one vote.
The leased land is east of the airport and is part of 155 acres the county owns in the area. The land is set aside for future airport expansion and to create a buffer between homes and the airport. Some of it is leased to private interests for industrial and commercial uses. Some private interests obtain master leases and then sublet the land to other private interests. This is how Wal-Mart got approved -- it was subleasing from Marnell Corrao Associates, which was approved, via the March 16 consent agenda, for a 65-acre master lease.
Overseeing the leasing process is Aviation Department Director Randy Walker. Either he, or a member of his staff, should have informed the commissioners of Wal-Mart's involvement before the March 16 consent agenda came up for a vote. Instead, the commissioners were sandbagged and now they are researching whether they can overturn their own approval. The issue could be heading for a costly court battle.
The commissioners say they will change the way such leases are handled in the future, but the matter must not rest there. They must get to the bottom of how a Wal-Mart Supercenter -- which is a highly controversial development all over the country -- could have possibly gained their unknowing approval. Was this a deliberate end-around by a staff member? Were the commissioners really fooled, or was it their way of gaining approval for Wal-Mart with minimum political damage? Was it incompetence? Could there be criminal activity? The public, especially the affected residents, deserves to know.