Las Vegas Sun

December 11, 2018

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Judge rules Boulder City golf course initiative will appear on ballot

In November, Boulder City voters will decide whether the city should limit itself to owning one golf course after Judge Allan Earl on Wednesday denied a motion by the city attorney to remove the golf course initiative from the ballot.

The issue has been raised repeatedly at city council meetings as the city prepares to confront a budget crunch. According to city documents, the two golf courses — Boulder Municipal Golf Course and Boulder Creek Golf Club — are budgeted to lose at least $1 million in the coming year, as the city continues to pay off its debt on Boulder Creek's lease.

The city is also trying to reconcile a $3 million hole in its $22.7 million budget for the 2011 fiscal year because of late lease payments by an energy firm.

At a special hearing, Earl considered arguments from Paul Larsen, who represented plaintiffs Boulder City and City Attorney Dave Olsen, and Tracy Strickland, who represented the five defendants along with his wife, Councilwoman Linda Strickland.

The petition proposes: “Shall the Boulder City Code be amended to provide that it shall be the policy of the City to own no more than one golf course, which shall not exceed 18 holes?”

Olsen filed a lawsuit in July challenging the legal validity of the initiative and named the five citizens who sponsored it as defendants. Larsen then made a motion last week for Earl to direct the city clerk to remove the golf course question from the November ballot.

Larsen pushed the decision forward because election ballots must be printed by Sept. 10 in order to be sent to absentee voters.

He argued the initiative lacked a sufficient description of its effects and would limit the city council’s legal right to make discretionary administrative decisions. For example, the language would seem to mandate that the 27-hole Boulder Creek Golf Club be closed and the 18-hole municipal golf course be left open.

“Anyone signing (the petition) could conceivably be misled,” Larsen told the court. Linda Strickland and Councilman Travis Chandler helped to circulate the petition, and Larsen argued that the ballot initiative “sought to circumvent the administrative authority of the city council.”

He added that Boulder City’s citizens have a chance to weigh in on the issue when electing city council members, who have begun to include their positions on the golf course issue during their campaigns.

The Stricklands countered that the question dealt with policy, and the city council would be left to make administrative choices about how to enforce that policy. They pointed out that the city council could choose to close the municipal golf course and nine holes of the Boulder Creek course. The ballot initiative didn’t discuss particulars.

“We cannot continue to sustain two (golf courses),” Linda Strickland told Earl. “This is about the greater good for Boulder City. That (city) council has no idea what most of the people of Boulder City want to do with these golf courses.”

Earl concluded, because he agreed the ballot initiative addressed a policy issue, he would deny the city’s motion. He also called the golf courses “a financial disaster.”

“We have to give (citizens) the right to vote on what they want,” Earl said after making his decision. “Let’s see what they think.”

After the hearing, Olsen said he would wait for the results of the election, but, if the initiative passed, he plans to challenge its legality in court. Wednesday’s ruling held no bearing on the initiative’s ultimate legality, only that it should be allowed to appear on November’s ballot.

When asked about her appearing as attorney for the defendants while serving as a council member, Linda Strickland said: “I think I have the right to represent my constituents.”

The defendants technically retained Tracy Strickland as their council, and then he sought his wife’s assistance as a partner in their law practice with the case. Linda Strickland said she also consulted the Nevada bar’s professional rules of conduct before appearing in court.

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