Friday, April 24, 2009 | 2 a.m.
As Henderson’s longest serving mayor, James Gibson is going to miss the job he never thought he wanted. But as he looks out his window at City Hall, he is excited to have more time to spend with his family, especially his growing brood of grandchildren.
No more will he look out his office window to discover mischievous children had dyed the water in the city’s veterans memorial fountain.
Gibson will be leaving office in June, packing up the photos of him with professional golfer Jack Nicklaus on a city golf course, bobbleheads of other elected officials (although none of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman) and accolades he’s received over the years.
Gibson spoke with In Business Las Vegas about the city he’s led for 12 years, the economy and his plans.
IBLV: Henderson became one of the fastest growing cities and the second fastest in Nevada under your watch. Where do you see Henderson in 20, 25 years?
Gibson: Well, I imagine in terms of growth, which is what those numbers are, we’ll have maintained that position. There’s good reason to believe that we’ll continue — if we ever go back to anything close to the model that we were living in the decades of the ’90s through a couple of years ago — that we’ll continue to grow. We’ll see a lot of residential growth.
The pressure on this side of the valley has always been, since we established our reputation, for residential development. There was a time when, on this end of the valley, you would see a little bit more industrial development. But what we’ve seen here in the past 10 years has really been an enormous pressure to get housing, and that drives, of course, these statistics that you mentioned.
Your father, James I. Gibson, played a huge role in the development of Henderson as a state assemblyman and senator and is largely regarded as being among the most powerful until his death. And as you know, he was a World War II Navy veteran. Tell me about your father and his influence on Henderson, the state and you.
In fairness, the first Gibson that influenced the city was his father. My grandfather, Fred Gibson, was superintendent of the BMI complex after the (Second World) War ended. There were a lot of decisions that were made by the companies that owned the plants after they were purchased from the government. The decision to dispose of the townsite homes, to sell them off as opposed to plowing them under, was a decision made when he was in leadership at BMI. That was a very large and important decision because that really began the establishment of a privately owned city.
Dad was in the Legislature 30 years, but his first elected office was as a member of the board of trustees of the Henderson School District, which existed before consolidation. Education was always a very big thing to him. The city went through a whole lot of growing pains. There were a multitude of issues that were important to the city — all the way from the way we were able to raise revenues to the growth in revenues year to year. The Legislature maintained a pretty strong hold on all of that while he was serving. He was instrumental in helping the cities survive during difficult times and he helped shape what has become a really successful place today.
He’s been dead since 1988, so it’s been a long time since we were under his influence, but he was a very important figure for the city. He loved the city. We could have lived anywhere, but he chose to come here, and this is where we established our home.
He attended the United States Naval Academy and owed the military an obligation. They sent him to a master’s program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. He studied and received his master’s degree there. Then he worked on special assignment in the Navy for a few years, and then was able to retire. He separated and came back here, and my grandfather had founded a plant, a company. It was a chemical company. It was the predecessor to PEPCON (Pacific Engineering and Production Co. of Nevada). It was the old Western Electric Chemical Co. It was established right over where Kerr-McGee’s facilities are today. In fact, he was part of the group that sold out to the predecessor of Kerr-McGee.
So, the family’s been around a long time. And the city, and its growth, its establishment, and its vitality were important pieces of the things that they did early on.
What contributions did your father make to Henderson that you are most proud of?
There were a number of things. I remember when we were working on the rights-of-way necessary for the freeway system out in Henderson. Dad was around those days, and that was a very important thing to him. He was there when the time came to work with the leadership of the university system to establish a community college in Henderson. So, there were a multitude of issues that were important. I don’t know if one sticks out any more than the other. The Nevada Plan, which worked for decades, the school funding plan, was actually written by my dad. So, all of the educational successes we enjoyed and the funding that worked for so long — although I understand we’re in deep trouble now — came as a result of a very successful plan.
Is your father the reason you initially chose to run for mayor in 1997?
You know, I had an interest in politics, probably because as a youngster I worked on his campaigns. But I never imagined I would run for mayor. That was the furthest thing from my mind. It was not until my predecessor called me and said, “I’m not running again. You need to help me find someone.” And in that exercise, I happened to be the last man standing (laughs). I did not intend to run for mayor. I thought one day I would run for the (Clark) County Commission or maybe the state Legislature, but I had no designs on running for mayor at the time.
Now I can’t believe that because it’s been a very involved job where we’ve touched so many people over the years, and made so many important decisions that I think helped shape the community. It’s hard to believe what little I really knew about the mayor back before I decided to do it.
On to redevelopment — why has it been important for the city to redevelop downtown Henderson? Why not just, for instance, move City Hall to Green Valley?
We simply can’t afford to have the older part of the city rot. What happens in areas that are neglected, and by that I mean we would keep the streets clean and the sewer running, but in terms of paying attention to values, there is just no way to have sustained this part of the city without a city commitment, and participation and partnering, like what happens with redevelopment. So, this is the part of the city that lingers in so many people’s minds.
Now, today, not so much. Today the growth of the city has gone off in different directions, but it was important for us to not simply neglect such an important part of the history of the city. The decision was made before I got here to build the City Hall here. We had a City Hall, it was really across the street from where we are now (240 S. Water St.). But once that decision was made, we had now seeded millions of dollars into the decision to try and prop up this part of the city. The redevelopment gave us a legal mechanism to do that — that made all the sense in the world.
We haven’t seen anything close to what Water Street can become. If the economy had not failed on us, we would have had three or four other very nice projects that would make a big difference. But the time will come when we will be able to finish it, and when we do, that will influence the surrounding area.
We’ll be able to see a lofts project that failed come along and there will be an opportunity to do some more commercial and more residential, and it will be the kind of thing that will have renewed the area that if left neglected would have cost us far more in so many different ways. The policing, for that matter, all of the public safety issues, would have cost us.
This gives us an opportunity. We have a new school here now that probably wouldn’t have happened had we not committed so much to redeveloping the downtown area. We probably would not have seen the shopping that is being built at the foot of Water Street on Lake Mead (Parkway) had we not seen the commitment of the city to reestablish itself here.
And then you have — I don’t know what the count is today — 60- to 80,000 people that live on this side of Black Mountain. The city could do lots of things in the neighborhoods, but we would have never been able to stem the deterioration of the older part of the city had we not picked a place and then really gone after it. And we’ve done that. I think it’s been a significant contributor to at least maintaining those neighborhoods, if not improving them in many cases.
What about Boulder Highway? The city has tried to redevelop that area, as well, in an effort to help the businesses out there.
Boulder Highway will eventually become a very important piece of all that we do. Because of the transportation issues, the (Regional Transportation Commission) has some money and is proposing a bus transit route along Boulder Highway, really in the five corners where Charleston (Boulevard) and Fremont Street meet Boulder Highway. That area, this whole expanse of Boulder Highway, is challenged.
The thing that we need to do, is do what strategic planning we can do early, today, and as development occurs on the highway, try and hold people to the standard that we’ve deemed necessary for success there. Over time, probably from the center of our city, this area that corresponds to where we are on Water Street, it will spread into the Pittman and along into the Whitney (Ranch) areas and the same thing will happen from Las Vegas out. Little by little, over some period of time, we’ll see more new, successful business development and some residential development.
It’s something that can’t happen today. It can’t happen in the next several years, in all likelihood. But if we are careful about laying the groundwork, then when the time comes, we have a plan, we know what we decided we needed there, and hopefully we can stick to our guns and live by the plan. And that will cause significant change. For today, what we can do is do the strategic planning.
Henderson built the auto-show mall to create a one-stop car shopping location in its city. With the troubles carmakers and dealers are having, what challenges are the auto mall having?
I don’t know about the economics of the mall, that’s unique to the people who own it. We know that with the serious deterioration in buying power because of this economy, that all of the dealerships over there are experiencing difficult times.
We agreed to establish a zone where you can have, and conditions on which you can establish an auto mall. It has been one of the most successful ventures in the entire state. In fact, I believe at one time and until the recession hit us, it was probably still the case that the Valley Automall is the single highest producer of sales tax revenue in the state of Nevada, and that wouldn’t be surprising given that you’re selling big ticket items over there.
We have to have a commitment to sustain that business, just as we have relied upon them over time to sustain us. It’s our expectation that — of course we have no way of knowing what’s going to happen to the automobile industry — but to the extent that it survives, or however the pieces and parts survive, the people who own and operate that mall are very talented people. So, I expect, that as we begin to come back, the mall will come back and it will be a successful venture for everybody concerned.
We’ve actually seen since the economy turned on us, they’ve opened up the new Toyota store, which is on the east side of (U.S.) 95, a great big store. I think there’s a Lexus dealership in the design stages that’s going to be built across the street from that (Toyota) store, and then the old Toyota store is being remodeled to be a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Somebody has some confidence in the economy and I’m glad to see that.
How has the city balanced the needs of the older, more established Henderson and the younger, growing Green Valley and south valley areas?
It’s almost a refrain that you hear from time to time, not so much today, but it used to be the case, that people would complain, “Why do you do all of the beautiful streets and streetscapes over on the other side of town, and you don’t do any of that over here?” Of course, the real answer to that question is, we don’t do any of it. As the developers come in, and of course the principal developer over there was the Greenspun Company and American Nevada Company (owned by the Greenspun family, publishers of In Business Las Vegas), as they would lay out and develop the pads for the neighborhoods over there, first they built beautiful roadways and beautiful streetscapes. In fact, I learned that those roads are described as curvo-linear streets. That’s an engineering term. It describes that its headed from here to here, but it’s going to get there in a circuitous way (laughs). We have none of that on this side of the city. But what we have seen is a renewed interest in new development on this side of the city. If you go up by Mannion (Middle) School at Paradise Hills, there are still subdivisions up there that are actually moving. They’re building homes and selling them. In a couple of other areas, there is still development going on. So, it has helped us to see a little new development, because some of that which they love so much on the other side of the city, the newer part of the city, is now being built, because that’s our standard. That’s what we’re requiring of them, and we’re requiring here.
The other thing that we’ve done, is we’ve gone back and strengthened our parks and recreation presence on this side of the city. We’ve done things because we felt we needed to, by partnering with Basic High School. We put up the baseball field lights so that they could play night games. We partnered with the community college and we’re full partners in building its very nice baseball stadium. We maintain really the finest baseball fields in the state. We have gone into the (middle) schools, like Brown (Middle) School, and we built the Hayley Hendricks Park next to it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, we’ve gone back and retrofitted the city with some of the things that we demand today, if we had the opportunity to demand them of someone else. As the financial condition of the city has allowed it, we’ve gone back and done that.
We have Heritage Park going in on 160-acres that is in the older part of the city, at Racetrack and Burkholder. We’re building now a new senior center and new aquatics center. That will be a wonderful anchor for all kinds of family and other kinds of activities in the older part of the city. So, we’ve done an awful lot in the older part of the city and all of that is essential. Your question suggests that life might be a little different on one side of the city from what it’s like on the other side, and we’ve tried to neutralize that difference.
Do you think Henderson will continue to expand its population and its city limits?
We’re landlocked, save for, and except the Interstate 15 corridor headed to California. I think that there is a growing recognition among the various public entities that Henderson will need to grow to the (southeast) side of I-15 at Sloan and beyond, because there needs to be the ability to grow.
Part of that is driven by the way the state allows us to be funded. Over time they may revisit the funding formulas and if they do, why then maybe that will provide a disincentive to growth. But for right now there needs to be growth and over time we believe it will head down that area.
Henderson seems to have tried to develop its own identity, separate from the county, but some still consider it a bedroom community. Is that an accurate description?
I don’t have any concern about being a bedroom community. What I tell people that means is, this is the place that people who work in other parts of the valley choose to live. And, obviously, their bedrooms are in their homes. So, we’re plenty satisfied with whatever we’re called.
What we want to do, we want to be a city that offers premier amenities in a condition and in a volume that allows our residents to access them and have that influence the quality of their lives. We are always going to be particular about the way we establish design standards. There’s a certain criterion that we feel you have to meet in order to build here. We think it’s a unique opportunity to develop in Henderson, and I think that the statistics prove out our theory. I think for us to meet the responsibility that we owe the people who live here already, we will always distinguish ourselves in some way.
Our principal concern is always to be better, and we’re willing to copy somebody else if they’ve got a better idea. You know, one of the first things that I ran into when I was elected in ’97 was an attitude around City Hall that we didn’t have to invent it and surely didn’t like things remaining as they were. We’re after best practices. If we can find them anywhere, we’ll take them, and if there is a way to do it, improve upon them. It’s an unusual thing to find among bureaucrats, a willingness to really change and to take somebody else’s idea, because that implies work. This is a hard working entity in this city and people work very, very hard. Part of it is because they have such great pride in what they’ve contributed toward what we’ve achieved. I look for us to continue to be what we are — some people would think it’s a bedroom community, others might think it’s a premier community, in any case, I think it’s both. We’ll continue to keep our place there.
Do you foresee Henderson ever consolidating any of its services with the county or others, such as its police force or building department?
We have really strong and efficient departments right now, so it’s hard for me to foresee a time when it would be more efficient to be a part of a much, much larger organization. I think we operate very, very efficiently, very effectively. Our development services center has an on-time record of over 98, maybe 99 percent of the time. If you submit a set of plans for a building permit, we’ll review them and give you comments on the moment that we told you we would. So, you’ll be able to get your financing, you’ll be able to say to your bank, “We’ve submitted, and Henderson says we’ll have our application approved by such-and-such a date,” and you’ll be able to bank on that commitment. Time is money.
None of the other entities comes close to our success in the development services experience we value. So, it would be a hard thing for us to throw in with others. Right now, I don’t see that, even on a long horizon, I think there will always be really good reasons for us to maintain our own public safety and own building departments.
Our park and trail system has been such a priority, giving control of that over to someone else would be kind of hard, and we have a whole lot more of those coming along, with the (Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act) money now. We’re finally to the point that we’ve completed the design, we’ve completed much of the acquisition and we’re actually able to spend some of that money building.
It’s hard for me to think about where we might gain through consolidation. I suppose there are some areas, and over time there will probably be a lot of discussion and debate about that, but right now I think we’re doing a pretty good job, even though none of us are doing very well right now.
Let’s step away from the city for a moment and talk about the monorail. Can you describe your past relationship with the monorail?
Originally, my law firm was hired to defend the monorail in some disputes with property owners that were nearby. Subsequent to that, I was appointed by (former Gov.) Kenny Guinn to be a board member of the monorail. When Bob Broadbent died, his wife, widow, came to me and asked me if I would stand in his place — although I wasn’t the creator, and he knew a lot more about it than I did — for the remaining period of the contract (for) the company that she and her son-in-law owned and operated together. I said I would do that, and so for — I’ve lost track now of how long it was, but it was probably about 20 months — I was in a position that I had shared management responsibility for the company that operated the monorail.
Do you have a relationship with the monorail now?
No, I don’t.
What do you think the monorail’s future is?
I think it’s a good idea for the movement of traffic, the movement of people, in the resort corridor. It’s a very pricey application, something like $100 million a mile, something like that, if you add the financing costs. So, it’s an expensive proposition. Maybe if the gaming industry were on top of its game, and all of the cylinders were hitting, there would be a real opportunity to go forward. The monorail has not ever been profitable. I think part of it is that there were some flawed assumptions in the very beginning. Ridership never amounted to what was predicted, and I think there are reasons for that. It will be difficult for the monorail, in its current configuration to just expand using the kind of financing that it did in the past. And government is not in a position to do any financing. I think it could be a while before much happens with it at all. I think it will continue to operate, it will continue to provide a service and the hotels that are all along the line there will benefit from it. And, frankly, I guess the two major companies are represented along that line. Beyond that, I don’t know.
I’ve always hoped that the monorail would become a means of transportation for the gaming industry employees, that somehow we would be able to get intermodal stations somewhere, probably to the south, that would be served by buses that would run on direct routes from park-and-ride lots, instead of having to provide all of the parking. There’s no city in the world that provides parking like Las Vegas, Nevada. But that’s a very expensive proposition if you consider the value of that land. The hope that I always had, and I pitched this to some of the people as we were developing our plans internally, that someday, we would be the alternative to having to build parking space for all of that for employees, as much as anything. Where they can park, and somewhere near home, get on a bus, taking it over to the intermodal station, empty hours that the monorail is not over the top. We’d bump up the ridership, because we’d be bringing a hundred thousand employees in to work.
It’s not realistic to assume that we would be able to bring all of them in, but we could do a lot, and that would help the monorail’s economics. I don’t know where that’s headed. I haven’t really had anything to do with the monorail since 2005. We’ll just have to see where that all goes.
Along the same lines with rail, do you support the proposed light rail transit system that’s been discussed, that would have started down near Nevada State College, that would then go through Green Valley along the Union Pacific Railroad?
I proposed it. I thought it was the smartest thing we could do (laughs). I thought it at the time. I understand the bumps that we’ve encountered, but if the terminus is Nevada State College, what you’re opening up is service to the school that will really need to be the school that offloads UNLV from all across the valley, because that rail system runs from north to south, and effectively serves east and west, too.
I always thought it would be a good thing. We have a corridor there that is highly underused. I kind of liked the idea of hard rail system, steel rail systems, like we’ve seen in so many cities. The most recently successful project is the Salt Lake City experience with the tracks system.
I had hoped that we would be able to begin to do this without having to pay for right-of-way, without having to worry about how we place this thing. Originally we had hoped that maybe co-locating a commuter rail on the UP line would work, but the gauge of the tracks and all of that, and then the industrial uses, would conflict. So, still our plan was to locate something adjacent, right next to it, in the middle of that right-of-way.
Now, there are a multitude of issues. Not everybody is going (traveling) right there. But if you had dedicated express bus routes down Gibson Road, down Green Valley Parkway, down Stephanie (Street), that would take you to where the shopping is and maybe even to where the high schools are, to the extent that you can get there reasonably, seems to me like it would be a wonderful win-win for everyone.
I’ve always felt that was probably the easiest way for us to get in that business. The high-speed train that they are talking about to California is an alternative we are all going to have to buy into at some point. We’re spending millions of dollars, as Nevada taxpayers, because it is so critical to our economy, that the California freeway system accommodate the traffic to Las Vegas. We spend money every year on highway expansion in California, and there’s a limit that you can do down there. It won’t solve the entire problem, but it would sure make travel here is a lot easier and quicker for a large number of people if you had a high-speed train that was leaving several times a day and bringing loads of people here. That rail system is essential to us down the road.
Do you think Henderson and the city’s services are business friendly?
I do. We’ve been very conscientious in establishing personal dealings with businesses, but if they prefer to do it online, we have the online services, as well. We’ll help mentor them, we will assign people to them to workwith them and walk them through city hall to get their permits. We even sponsor programs that teach (businesspeople) about the issues that confront them. The things that we do are designed to help businesses be successful.
The development services center deals with tenant improvement design, too. If you have a building you’ve leased, and you need to do tenant improvements, you will be able to get a predictable date at which you’ll be able to begin the construction of those improvements. All of that is essential. Our fees, I think, are reasonably priced. We work very well with the (Henderson) Chamber of Commerce, which is a very important part of the city. I would say, on balance, we do a good job.
Let’s talk about your race for governor (in 2006).
We’re moving into that territory now. Why do you think you lost in that primary?
Well, I’ll give you my version. I think we worked every bit as hard as any other candidate. We raised every bit as much money as any candidate. But, I ran as a Democrat. I’m a registered Democrat, have always been. But I’m a moderate in my political philosophy, and I believe that my moderate views on some things were exploited in a very successful way. (Dina) Titus appealed to the people with a more liberal bent and they are the ones that tend to vote in Democratic primary elections. I think it’s as simple as that.
It was something we fought hard to accomplish, and didn’t.
Are you considering a run for a county, state or federal office in the future?
I don’t have anything specific in mind. If the right opportunity came along at the right time, I would surely consider it. I’ve had a wonderful experience and I have always believed that public service is an important part of our lives, so sure. If the right job came along, and it matched up well with my talents, then I’d be inclined to consider it. Sure.
What are your thoughts on the Boulder City Bypass and its effect on Henderson?
Well, all of that traffic ultimately will get routed into Henderson, whether there’s a bypass or not. We do feel that it makes all the sense in the world to speed up the rate at which people can travel into the valley, and to that extent, it will have a large impact. If you’re stuck in Boulder City, and you’re driving 30 miles an hour, you can’t move through there. I feel for them. I recognize the challenge the businesses and the residential community face in light of the immense traffic that wants to come that way.
The difficulty for us is that in order for state money or our regional money to be spent on the bypass, it means the diversion of dollars for priorities that the rest of us have established. That is very difficult. As supportive as we may be of the initiative, it’s very difficult to redirect money. Our hope is that Homeland Security will think that ought to be a priority, that they ought to be able to not move traffic over the dam any longer, but away from that entire corridor and bring it in a different way. We believe there are a couple of initiatives that make a lot of sense.
The toll road initiative, my understanding is that toll roads are not lawfully done in Nevada without legislation. There may well need to be some legislation in order to accommodate that, and I don’t know if that works. I haven’t read studies that tell me about it.
I think anytime that we can move traffic more smoothly across an area, that the whole rest of the traffic system that’s tied to it operates more efficiently.
How concerned are you that the city will lose funding to the state, and how well-funded is the city, currently?
I am concerned, we have all been concerned, all the mayors, for that matter, the counties are concerned, about how the state intends to make up shortfall. My view has been, and it remains, that we should be left where we are. We’re not in perfect condition. To take away 5 percent or 8 percent of the revenues that we currently receive carries with it the risk that we would be rendered in the same economic condition the state’s in and that would not be good for anyone. We’re very worried about that.
There has been talk, I believe we’ll see legislation this session. We want to be partners with the state in the attempts to solve the state budget crisis, but that doesn’t mean we want to be the ones that contribute money in the partnership. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what comes up, and then we’ll evaluate it and make our decision.
The city is hurting. We’re down $55 million over what we anticipated, We’ve cut back and we’re saving about $25 million. We’ve hit reserves to the tune of about $30 million for the current year. We’re hitting reserves pretty heavily in years two through five in order to get through this. The thing that has saved us is that in the years where we did well, we really took seriously the responsibility to save for a rainy day, and we do have reserve funds that are available to us that allows us to operate. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to do some pretty dramatic things. The development services center that I spoke about a minute ago, is an enterprise fund, which means we don’t fund it out of the general fund. It’s funded by the fees that are collected for the services that are provided. We’ve had to right-size the number of employees in that department, and that has caused us to have to transfer people out of there. We have some people who are working in a temporary assignment at the same pay, we have some people who have taken other jobs at less pay, and we had three people opt for layoffs two weeks ago.
It’s been a real struggle. All of the development, the public works, building functions, have declined. The demand is not there, you can’t justify all of the employees we previously had. On balance, we’re OK. We feel that if things don’t deepen too much more, we’ll get through this. Then, our first commitment is to restore what we can to reserves if we try to make up for what we’ve missed.
What other steps are you taking to tackle the declining revenue?
We’re still building capital projects for the reason that staffing requirements are not going to break us when we open the things. We feel that the benefits that come from the employment opportunities are important and we need them. That’s really consideration number one.
But to the extent that we’ve modified the capital schedule, that’s one very important thing that we’ve done. We have done a voluntary retirement program. We went through one, and 60-plus people took advantage of it. We’ve now gone into voluntary employee retirement, phase two. We’re going to allow another 25 to retire. The first 25 to sign up will be allowed to retire, and we’ve induced them to do that, because it is in our interest. We can recover that money in a very short time by not having to pay those salaries, or in some cases where we have to backfill a position, the person who is earning at the very top of the range is being replaced by somebody at the bottom of the range. So there are good and sound reasons for doing that. We had an across-the-board, 10 percent reduction in each department just in the way they do things. In the way they buy copy paper and arrange for contracts for copy paper and telephones. We’ve modified our approach to travel, and we’re trying to restrict travel to just essential travel.
We are looking at cost-of-living adjustments and we are looking at our deferred compensation plan. I think everything’s on the table. Everything. We are looking also at the way we provide some of the benefits like the health insurance benefit. We’re self-insured today. We’re currently, at this moment, in a program designed to determine whether that’s the most cost-effective program to have, or whether we should outsource it. I would say, over the next few months, we will have looked at every single function in the city to see if there isn’t a better, cheaper way to do it.
Your wife, Lora, has missed countless hours with you during Tuesday night council meetings, as well as other mayoral duties. Is she relieved there’s a term limit?
You know, it’s really interesting, I would have said a year ago that she would really be looking forward to this. And, I don’t know if it’s a commentary on how much she enjoys being with me (laughs) or what, but she has the same passion for the city I do, and it’s been comforting to her to know that the things I care about are things that she signs on to. She influences, I mean you can’t be married as long as we’ve been married, and have there be no influence. I would say she has very strong, mixed feelings about coming to the end of this service. She’s excited to have me home and excited for some of the things that we just put off for a long time, and at the same time, she’s real anxious about the future of the city.
What’s next for you? Will you be focusing on your law practice?
I have had offers of employment. I haven’t settled on anything yet. I really wanted to get a sense of what is out there. It is a very difficult thing to give all of this time to the city, and then just stop and go out and do something different. I’ve maintained a law practice during the entire time that I’ve been mayor, and I’m looking at a multitude of other opportunities, some of which are law, and some of which are other things. But I’m rearing to go. I’ve learned to use so much energy in a week, I surely don’t want to store any of that up (laughs).
I know you’re going to love this question. Let’s talk about your legacy ...
The one I don’t have?
Right. You’ve been humble, or modest, about having an individual legacy. Instead, you say that the legacy belongs to Henderson. If I asked those closest to you, what do you think they would say?
Well, I think that the things that I’ve worked hardest for, are things that I’m not necessarily the proudest of, but the first things that come to my mind, not so much in terms of a legacy, because it took so many people to get them together, but in terms of just measuring the accomplishment, and what’s funny is, some of those have nothing at all to do with the mayor’s job, really.
The establishment of Nevada State College was an almost overwhelming task. I was vilified in virtually every board of regents meeting by detractors. There were reporters and editorialists who thought it was the most idiotic thing they had ever seen. But today, we have a beautiful building out there. We have a couple thousand students. It is beginning to fulfill its mission. There are already nurses and teachers who attended there and were degreed in that institution who are working with our children and in our hospitals around the valley. One of the most important functions is that it takes the responsibility of UNLV in being all things to all people, and allows them to become a little bit better university, to become a little bit more selective, but in the courses they offer, and in the students who go there. So, the state college was an enormously important thing to me.
And the other thing, although it hasn’t taken near the amount of time, the Apple partnership, which is our literacy program. I can’t wait every year after the school year is over to get the report on how many minutes we read. I remember the first year we read, I want to say, about a million minutes. I think we’ve been through four years and last year we read over 20 million minutes with students who don’t have anyone at home to read with them, or who’s parents don’t have the time. By the time they get off work, get home, try and clean up, prepare some food, do some wash, bathe kids, they’re at the end of their day, in terms of energy and time.
What does it hurt us? But what do we gain? And that’s the thought process I went through as we wrote the Apple partnership, and I surely do hope that remains something that remains a priority in the city.
We’ve seen the refinement of our master-planning process for residential master plans. I hope the day will come when we can see more master-planned communities. I think that we’ve kind of figured it out.
There are other things. I came here and we had a very good organization, but I came out of business. I was a counselor at a publicly traded company. I had budgets that I was responsible for, outside lawyers and people in the legal department. One of the things that we undertook very soon after I got here was an effort to prepare not just a mission statement and a set of values and a vision that would move us forward, but to prepare business plans in every department. So today, we work to business plans in the city. I think that has been a very important piece of the work that we do. The finance staff at the city has been very good, and one of the things that we worked very hard to do is get our bond rating improved, and today we have a AA+ bond rating. We’re the only city in the state that maintains a AA+ bond rating. What that does is it allows us when we do a public works project to sell bonds and pay a lower interest rate. When we borrow to something, which we do, that’s how you do it, we’re able to do it for less than it would cost us more if we were just one notch worse in our bond rating.
I have been here, but I haven’t been responsible alone for any of these things. But they have all been really important things that I have worked hard to establish. The year I came to office, I was elected in the primary and I actually took office in June of ’97, the Legislature, which adjourned at that same time, had just passed a law that changed the funding formula for cities. For the next four years, one of the things that consumed us and me, was getting restored to the consolidated tax formula, the language that would allow us to benefit from it. We lost (about) $24 million over that four-year period, so it had to be a priority.
I remember coming in here one evening, getting ready for a council meeting, having a full calendar of briefings and what not, and I got a phone call, and one of the key legislators who had a different view of the world from mine, had agreed to meet with me, if I would come to dinner that night. They booked me an airplane and I ran out the door, left my briefing materials and stranded the people who were here to brief me, and flew to Carson City, and drove in a blinding snowstorm to get over to Carson just to have dinner, and I got up and I flew home. It was that kind of thing, it was all consuming, even with Speaker (Richard) Perkins in the Legislature, we had to get it through two houses of the Legislature, and it was very much an uphill battle, because the $24 million we didn’t get, somebody else got. Even though theoretically they might have thought we were right, they weren’t going to give up the money. It took an enormous effort to do that.
I could go on and on and on. But that gives you an example of things that I didn’t do. That’s why I don’t say that. There’s nothing that I can point to that I did. Now there were times when it was my idea, and there were times when other things that were wonderful and they were the instance of other people. The great thing that has been a real hallmark of the city of Henderson, is that the council, because of the way we’re elected, I’m convinced that’s the reason for it. If we were elected ward by ward, as opposed to having to live in a ward but run at large, I think there would be a completely different level of cooperation. But we’re not. We run citywide, and so if I want to vote ... at different ends of the city, I’d be more attentive to their issues or I’m not going to earn it. That brings you all together. I’ve objected to anything that would change that and love the fact that it really reinforces the need for collegiality in all of the things that you do.
What are you going to miss most about being mayor?
I’ve been thrust into situations where I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to meet thousands of people who live in the city, and I can’t figure out how I’m going to continue to be able to meet thousands of people (laughs). If you ask us, what is our most valuable resource in the city, I would say, it’s this incredible citizenry. We have people here who have run Fortune 500 companies and who have given the kind of service that we talk about for an entire lifetime — who have moved here with that vast background. People who bring talents and commitments, and then people who just bought into the vision of what we want to be and what we want to become. That’s very rewarding.
I guess the other thing is, I really like tough challenges. I like to surround myself with people that are a lot smarter than I am, and then work together to try and solve them. While as an attorney, you’re constantly dealing with other people’s difficult challenges, it’s different. We all have a stake in the outcome here. I will truly miss the problem solving that we go through here.