Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Anatomy of an Appointment
Last night, the Henderson City Council had a crucial decision to make. The Ward 3 seat had become vacant when incumbent Council Member Kathleen Vermillion (formerly Boutin) suddenly resigned. This news was first greeted by plenty of shock all over Henderson... Only for constituents to then be shocked by the torrent of salacious details of the romantic relationship between Vermillion and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D-Henderson), then the accusations that Vermillion committed fraud and improperly used city and charity money for her own personal gain (she's the CEO of Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth). And now, as Kathleen Vermillion is suing Steve Sisolak, he's firing back and presenting evidence that he says shows her law suit is baseless and frivolous... And he's now claiming she tried to extort a whopping $3.9 million from him.
And while the Vermillion scandal continued to deepen, the rest of the Henderson Council had to decide upon a replacement for Ward 3. Ward 4 Council Member Sam Bateman had proposed a special election, but the rest of the council ultimately decided to appoint a replacement. And from there, the City Clerk collected applications from 14 Henderson Ward 3 residents vying to fill this vacancy. And among the 14 candidates, two in particular caught plenty of attention: Sean Fellows, Vermillion's appointment to the Planning Commission, the Republican nominee who ran against now Nevada Assembly Member April Mastroluca (D-Henderson) in the 29th District in 2008, and someone with close ties to Nevada GOP power player Ryan Erwin; and Cathy Rosenfield, who had previously served on the Parks and Recreation Board for a decade and ran against Vermillion in the 2009 Ward 3 council election (and received over 7,000 votes). With the background of scandal and two local political heavyweights emerging to fill this position, a real battle royale was brewing here in Henderson.
Yet last night, a wild card emerged that shattered many observers' expectations of what was to ensue at the Henderson Council Meeting to fill the Ward 3 vacancy. Henderson Planning Commissioner John Marz was another of the 14 applicants, and he really distinguished himself during question time. Unlike most of the other applicants, Marz was able to explain in depth the problems Henderson, and specifically Ward 3, face. He spoke about retail vacancies, home foreclosures, the pending Science Center and Union Village developments near The Galleria, and how his business experience can help him build consensus on the council to solve the problems the bad economy showered upon Henderson.
Oh, and then Marz dropped a bombshell. He promised not to run for a full term in 2013. That immediately sparked a bad reaction from Ward 1 Council Member Gerri Schroder, who declared that the city needs a long-term commitment from the new Ward 3 pick, and that he or she should be ready to run for election. Sam Bateman, on the other hand, took it well and said that this solution is one that best preserves the voters' right to ultimately decide on a long-term replacement in 2013. Ward 2 Council Member Debra March mostly agreed with Bateman and found it noble that Marz was not trying to get a political lift with this. Mayor Andy Hafen sounded quite impressed with Marz, but also noted Schroder's concerns about the need for a long-term replacement.
Ultimately, Marz was a finalist, along with Cathy Rosenfield, Sean Fellows, and former CCSD principal Beverly Daly-Dix. And after another round of questions, the final round of voting was underway. The Clerk noted that a preference point system was about to be used to help determine where the council stands, and then the council can use that to narrow down further to a final decision. Gerri Schroder noted again that Cathy Rosenfield and Sean Fellows also had smart answers to her question on what specific problems face Ward 3, and that both of them are ready to make the long-term commitment she's looking for. Sam Bateman noted the personal relationships he has with some of the candidates, then led the entire council to make disclosures on that front (mostly donations from the realtors' PAC). And then, Mayor Hafen made a motion... And then, all of a sudden, John Marz won the appointment. The vote was 3-1 in favor (Hafen, March, and Bateman in favor; Schroder opposed).
Once the meeting adjourned, Marz was sworn in. Inside the council chamber, the mood was quite congratulatory. Sam Bateman was glad to see the issue resolved and satisfied that voters will ultimately have the final say on Ward 3 next year. And though Gerri Schroder obviously had her doubts about this final decision, she displayed no hard feelings about it.
However outside the chamber, there was palpable anger. Some were confused as to why Fellows didn't get the final nod. Others were making accusations about campaign donations clouding the council's judgment. Certainly, not everyone was pleased about what just happened.
Still, I honestly think this was the best decision the council could have made other than allowing for a special election. Some of the candidates clearly were looking to use this as a political springboard for future elections. Others just wanted an "easy way in". But with John Marz joining the council, and hopefully with him fulfilling his promise to step down next year, there won't be questions over the council acting improperly to install "cronies" or reward insiders with plum jobs. If candidates like Fellows and Rosenfield are still interested in serving, they can run in next year's election for the full term. And as the council tries to put the Vermillion scandal behind the city and move forward on vital matters of economic development and recovery, like the Union Village medical complex, the new Cornerstone Park, and what to do about future growth, it's probably best to avoid potential new scandals and leave the final decision to "we the people".