Las Vegas Sun

July 6, 2022

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Parties to ballot fight see chaos if they lose

City, Culinary Union make pitches to high court

Many of the same leading players were in attendance, but the scenes couldn’t have been more different.

In November more than 100 Culinary Union members showed up at a Las Vegas City Council meeting to loudly express their opposition to plans for a new city hall. A few months later more than 300 workers from a local laborers union packed the council chambers to support the city.

At a Nevada Supreme Court hearing Monday afternoon at the Regional Justice Center, muted olive and navy blue suits substituted for matching red and black T-shirts, and tempered legal arguments replaced impassioned chanting from union members desperate for more work.

Yet the underlying arguments were much the same.

The city is claiming that two Culinary-sponsored ballot measures — one that could halt the new city hall project, one that would repeal the city’s current redevelopment plan — cannot be voted on because they’re inherently unconstitutional.

The Culinary Union has responded by arguing that voters have the right to be heard before any court challenges can be brought — and that municipal officials have no right to stop valid measures from being placed on the ballot, which is what the City Council recently did.

The Supreme Court’s top-floor courtroom in Las Vegas is relatively small, holding only about 40 observers. Those seats were all filled.

In recognition of the importance of the argument before the court, several top city officials came to support an uncharacteristically silent Mayor Oscar Goodman, who sat in the front row with a sober expression and his hands clasped in front of him.

Joining Goodman were Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, Councilman Steve Wolfson and Interim Councilman David Steinman, City Manager Betsy Fretwell and redevelopment chief Scott Adams. City Council candidate Glenn Trowbridge also made an appearance, sitting near those he hopes to soon join on the council.

Top city allies in the business community also showed up. They included Rita Brandin of Newland Communities, which is developing Union Park on behalf of Las Vegas, and a few officials with Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, which would develop the proposed city hall.

Several top Culinary officials were there as well, including Political Director Pilar Weiss and Research Director Chris Bohner.

Each side had about a half-hour to make its case to the seven justices. As is often the case with appellate court arguments, case law and fine-print legal interpretation took center stage. The arguments were dry and bereft of theatrics.

Both sides did warn, however, that if the court ruled for the opposition, nothing short of chaos would ensue.

Paul More, an attorney representing the Culinary Union, warned that if the city were victorious, “legal chaos” would be the result, with city officials throughout the state preemptively killing any initiatives and referendums they didn’t like, even if the sponsors had gained more than enough valid signatures, which the Culinary in this case did.

In response, City Attorney Brad Jerbic cautioned that if the Culinary were victorious, first with the court and then with the voters in the city’s June 2 election, pandemonium would result when bondholders came knocking on the city’s door.

“It will literally be chaos,” Jerbic said.

The court is expected to rule before April 22, when the city clerk’s office is to begin printing absentee ballots for the general election.

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