At its July 26 meeting, the Mesquite City Council set a date for public hearings on amendments to city municipal codes that govern how winners and losers are determined in primary elections for city-wide elected offices.
The action stems from confusion and controversy created from the June 14 primary election for three council seats. The city codes adopted in 2011 that changed the election cycle for mayoral and council seats say that “If, in a primary city election, one candidate receives votes equal to a majority of votes [emphasis added] cast in that election for the office for which he or she is a candidate, the candidate must be declared elected to the office and the candidate’s name must not be placed on the ballot for the general city election. If, in the primary election, no candidate receives a majority of votes cast in that election for the office for which he or she is a candidate, the names of the two (2) candidates receiving the highest numbers of votes must be placed on the ballot for the general city election.
The key word in the code comes down to ‘votes’ versus ‘voters’ with several council members saying previously that they intended the results to come from the number of voters. The second mix-up came from the difference between a single-seat election for the mayoral position versus a multi-seat election for council.
The primary election had 2,625 voters cast ballots. Voters could select up to three candidates, one per each open council seat.
By dividing the 6,626 votes cast by three, that’s 2,208 votes per seat. To reach the 50-plus-1 threshold, a candidate had to get at least 1,104 plus one votes. Taking the city code literally and using the ‘votes’ cast, Brian Wursten and George Rapson exceeded that mark.
Wursten came in first with 1,243 votes with a close second by incumbent Rapson with 1,230 votes. Dave Ballweg took third place with 1,087 votes while Cindi Delaney came in fourth with 955 votes. The rest of the candidates all garnered less than a thousand votes. Ballweg and Delaney would have been the only two candidates going forward to the November general election for the third council seat.
However, when the council met five days after the June 14 primary to canvass the results and make them official, Councilmen Kraig Hafen, Geno Withelder and Rich Green voted to rely on the number of ‘voters’ in determining who went on to the November election and determined that the top six candidates would all advance. Nevada law requires at least two candidates per seat on the ballot. Candidates Dave West and Mike Benham will also appear on the general election ballot.
Rapson and Delaney recused themselves from the canvassing action.
Hafen said “I take the blame for the ordinance that’s terribly done” adding that when he voted on the revised ordinance in 2011 he never meant for the term ‘votes’ to determine election outcomes. He said the ordinance language was meant to refer to single-seat elections. “I still don’t know how I voted on something like this. It’s un-American,” Hafen said. He also said that the 50 percent-plus-1 vote rule was not meant to apply in a multiple-seat election.
He asked City Attorney Bob Sweetin to bring a revised ordinance to the council to adopt and use the term ‘voters’ instead.
At Tuesday night’s meeting Delaney said “I’m real pleased with this. It does speak to the idea that we’re talking about voters and keeps it very simple and clear cut to define what the majority of voters is. I know people complained that there weren’t going to be a lot of people here in June. But people will find a way to vote usually by absentee ballot.”
Rapson disagreed saying “I’m going to add my two cents. To me this is a procedural deal. ‘Voters’ may have been what was intended and may well have been the right answer. But when the ordinance says ‘votes,’ that’s the answer. To change it retroactively, I don’t know if it’s legal. The bottom line is we passed an ordinance. Whether we knew what we were voting on at the time is irrelevant. It passed. To change it retroactively is not how government works. Philosophically what we did [changing the June 14 primary results] was wrong.
The public hearing will take place during the next council meeting on Aug. 9.
The council also set a public hearing for a change to the medical marijuana ordinances that will “exempt schools, community facilities, and residential zones, from the separation requirements if they knowingly choose to locate closer to existing medical marijuana establishments” according to city documents.
City Development Services Director, Richard Secrist said in his back-up material for the agenda item that “City staff recently met with MLF Receiverships, Inc. regarding the Barcelona Partners properties. They’ve been tasked by the Courts to market the properties and pay off creditors. As a part of our discussions, they asked what the properties at 195 Willis Carrier Canyon were being used for. Staff explained that that is where Deep Roots Medical LLC operates its medical marijuana establishments. Hearing that, the next question asked was, ‘are there required distance separations from things like schools, churches, etc.?’
“Staff explained the location restrictions, generally, and we discussed the impact these may have on some of the Barcelona Partners parcels nearby. In light of the questions raised about the impact of these requirements on surrounding residential and commercial properties, staff has reviewed again the language of 9-15-8. In hind-sight now, it appears there may be some loop-holes and inconsistent language staff hopes to correct with this amendment.”
The hearing will also take place on Aug. 9 at the regular council meeting.