Sunday, June 23, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Kiernan McManus will tell you fondly and proudly that as a kid growing up in Boulder City, he didn’t have a house key until he was in high school. He didn’t need one.
“No one was worried about locking doors,” McManus said. “It was a small-town atmosphere; everyone lived close. There was a lot of time for kids to socialize with peers, and there was always a parent around.”
Today, that free-roaming kid is now Boulder City’s incoming mayor. And like the two new city council members who were elected alongside him this month, Claudia Bridges and James Adams, he has a desire to protect the community’s small-town character.
McManus was born in 1957 in Boulder City Hospital, a Depression-era facility that was razed in 2015. The demolition caused outrage in the community and sparked a swell of support for historic preservation.
McManus and the two incoming city council members all campaigned in support of preservation, as well as controlled growth.
Their stances struck a chord with Boulder City residents. All three candidates defeated incumbents, part of a sea change in the city’s leadership that carried over from the 2017 election. That year, residents voted in two new council members — McManus and Warren Harhay — while rejecting the one incumbent on the ballot.
Recently, McManus and the two incoming council members spoke to the Sun about their goals, and about the community’s strong desire for a change of the guard. The three will be sworn in Tuesday.
Things have changed since McManus graduated from Boulder City High School in 1975, including that people no longer leave their homes unlocked. But McManus said many Boulder City residents came to believe things had begun changing too fast in recent years, and wanted the council to slow down.
“There were voices on council that still wanted to do large developments,” he said. “The outgoing mayor, I felt, was an advocate for growth. I disagreed. My votes were in the minority.”
McManus said he wanted to maintain the city’s controlled-growth ordinance. In 2017, residents were faced with a ballot question that would have raised the limit of homes per developer. Voters gave this question a resounding “no,” and McManus shared that sentiment.
He also sided with defenders of the hospital, built during the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931.
“It had gone into private hands and they demolished the building,” he said. “That brought home that if we did not protect our buildings, we would lose them over time. That’s not something the majority of the people want.”
Bridges moved to Boulder City seven years ago after retiring from her job as a marketing professor at Sacramento State. Bridges and her husband, who works as a pilot, first visited Boulder City while they were scoping out cities near what's known as an airline domicile, a place where flight crews can locate long-term.
She remembers visiting Boulder on a Wednesday, and by Friday going to a credit union to buy a home.
Before that, Bridges said she only lived in big cities. But for her, Boulder City was “love at first sight.”
“I loved the historic district, low utility rates and controlled-growth ordinance,” she said. “It seemed like a community.”
Coming from a world of academia, Bridges said running for city council was a “natural transition” for her as she was already familiar with the politics involved with being on an elected board.
“When you are a tenured university professor, you are required to spend part of the time on council or committee as an elected faculty member,” she said. “Academia from a faculty perspective is very political. You have to represent your department or college. I got pretty involved in policy writing.”
Her motivation to run for council also came from her involvement in boards of local nonprofits. Her experience in grant writing led to her to eventually become a grant coordinator. This gave her some additional insight on some of the issues happening in town, such as the general distrust citizens had toward the last council and aggravation over unwanted developments and demolition of historic sites like the hospital.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and look at our historic preservation code so it’s not so easy to take down old building,” she said.
Bridges said there has also been shared frustration in town over what was happening in council chambers and within the city. She noted that there were many questions over council’s fiscal spending practices.
In 2016, for example, the city began the process of refinancing a $26.1 million water line debt without first bringing the issue to the voters.
“It seemed like one thing after another that made people wonder if it was time to change the face of the council.”
Adams, 33, admits he had to warm up to Boulder City after moving to town with his parents from Anaheim, Calif., when he was 9.
“I used to say my parents dragged me out of Disneyland and put me in Nevada.”
Over time, though, he came to appreciate the small-town feel.
“In Anaheim, I could only ride my bike to the end of the block. In Boulder City, I could ride my bike wherever I wanted. I kind of started to fall in love.”
In addition to being one of Boulder City’s newest council members, Adams is also a prominent member of the Las Vegas indie music scene along with his band, Same Sex Mary. When touring, Adams said, he's proud to always call Boulder City his home.
In addition to caring a great deal about historic preservation, Adams said he also wants to improve the transparency of city council.
“One of the biggest things I want to do that is fairly simple but would have a large impact, is increase access to information and start filming all of our committee and board meetings,” he said.
Although it’s safe to say that having a young, professional musician run for city council is a rarity, especially in a place like Boulder City, Adams said he was confident about his chances of not only winning, but beating an incumbent.
“I honestly did feel I could get it,” he said. “People asked me, ‘Do you think you can win?’ That’s actually the scariest part. I thought I could win. That’s what took me the longest time to make the decision to run. Not just to win, but to also be a meaningful representative.”