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September 22, 2019

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Honoring North Las Vegas’ social contract

North Las Vegas must be known once again for honoring contracts, regardless of whether the agreements are with our employees or our citizens. While much attention has been paid to past contracts with our employees, there has been little attention given to the social contract we made with our citizens when our city was formed. The social contract is the agreement in which individuals agree to create government and pay it taxes for clean water, courts, firefighters, libraries, parks, police officers, recreation centers, roads and a wide array of other services.

We must honor the social contract with our residents. The Founding Fathers outlined the concept in the Declaration of Independence by stating “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The social contract created our city and gives our city council the authority to enter into additional contracts with our employees to ensure the delivery of promised services.

Recognizing the importance of the social contract creates an obvious dilemma: How can we violate the social contract in order to honor a contract it produced? This would be like cutting the trunk of a tree in an effort to preserve the branches. In the past, long-term contracts were written and then breached when city leaders realized they had made unrealistic contracts with unsustainable pay raises and benefits.

Nobody likes to be on the short end of a broken promise, and this has put our unions in a very difficult position; however, our employees care about our town, are dedicated to serving our community and love their jobs.

The inability to change our past should not cloud our future. Today, despite years of concessions, compromises and givebacks, our employees remain uncertain about their jobs. Our unions are working with us to settle the contract violations of the past, and we have given them settlement offers to resolve the past as well as protect their jobs for the future. I hear stories about how our working families are holding off on having children or purchasing a home and how people are concerned about relocating to our community if parks or libraries could be closed.

They shouldn’t be deterred.

During the 1947 White House renovation, engineers advised President Harry Truman to tear down the entire building due to structural faults and start over. Truman said, “Hell, no!” and instructed them to rebuild the interior but keep the exterior walls in pristine condition for onlookers to see. Years ago, while visiting the Truman Presidential Library, I saw amazing photos of dump trucks parked inside the middle of the gutted building.

It’s much the same way in rebuilding North Las Vegas. From the outside, our residents will continue to see quality services, while inside City Hall, we will continue the top-to-bottom reforming and rebuilding necessary to construct the kind of government our social contract demands and our residents deserve.

Two wrongs never make a right. We must get past the differences that have divided our community and renew the original commitments made to our residents when our great city was formed. Making restitution for violating past contracts will not be done at the expense of the social contract. Our future depends on establishing North Las Vegas as a city that honors contracts.

John Lee is the mayor of North Las Vegas.

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