Friday, February 22, 2013

Andy Hafen & the Big Picture of Henderson

Last night, I stopped by a neighborhood meeting. And this wasn't just any neighborhood meeting. Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen answered questions and talked about the current state of the city at this neighborhood house party.

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Last night, Hafen pointed to the many achievements of the city in recent years in explaining how strong the state of the city actually is. Forbes has named Henderson one of the safest cities in America. Bloomberg Businessweek has named Henderson one of "America's 50 Best Cities". Henderson is often considered to be the best run municipal government in Southern Nevada.

So why have Ralston, Coolican, and especially the local "newspaper" been turning up the heat on City Hall lately? It has to do with the Chris Milam stadium scandal. In recent weeks, accusations of fraud (on Milam) and corruption (in the city) have been flying all around City Hall.

Last night, Hafen cleared the air and explained his side of the story. Basically, Milam promised Henderson a stadium. Henderson, in turn, signed onto an initial agreement to support Milam's bid for vacant BLM land just south of The M Resort on the condition that Milam builds a stadium on that land. But at the last minute, Milam terminated the agreement. And on top of that, he started marketing that land for residential development! And especially considering the full inventory of our local residential real estate market, that was considered the ultimate insult.

That's why Henderson filed suit against Milam. Yet despite this brouhaha, Andy Hafen said he'd still like to see a stadium built on that land. The city just has to make sure it finds a developer who will actually abide by one's word (and not try terminating a contract at the last minute).

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There was also some talk about development overall last night. The entire Las Vegas Valley has been hit hard by the "real estate bubble" bursting. One can even go around Henderson and still find vacant offices & "blue taped" houses. Yet in the past year, there have been signs of recovery. And Mayor Hafen was introspective in discussing how the city can better manage future growth.

Yet with that being said, the entire group thanked Mayor Hafen and the city for its extensive and award winning parks, trails, & recreation center network. Mayor Hafen boasted of the city's many family friendly amenities. This is something that makes Henderson quite unique in Southern Nevada, since other municipalities have historically revolved more around gaming & adult entertainment. Hafen and the audience talked about how this has aided economic diversification and neighborhood stability here.

And then, there's sustainability. Henderson was the first municipal government in Southern Nevada to adopt a sustainability plan. All around town, one can find signs of it as old street lights have been replaced by energy efficient CFL lights, landscaping & xeriscaping have converged, LEED certified buildings have popped up, and recycling has continued to be expanded & innovated. Henderson has gone out of its way to become a greener place to call home.

And it didn't end there. Getting back to economic development, there was even talk about the state of public education in the city. It's helped that K-12 schools here are considered among the best in the valley. (And it probably helps there that Henderson has many of the most affluent neighborhoods in the valley.) The group also discussed the expansion of Nevada State College (NSC). NSC has aggressively pursued public-private partnerships, and it's been pursuing students who want a four-year college education in a more intimate and flexible environment. While the city doesn't have too much say over CCSD schools, it is making sure NSC continues growing and prospering.

And that finally brings us to the Nevada Legislature. Of course, Mayor Hafen was happy that the new higher education funding formula means a much larger revenue stream for NSC. In addition, Hafen hinted at the ongoing C-Tax fight in describing how the city gets money back from Carson City. All in all, Hafen seemed encouraged by what's developing in the Legislature now.

Overall, it's a complicated big picture for Henderson. The city has certainly taken some tough punches over the last five years from both "The Great Recession" and embarrassing incidents like the Kathleen Vermillion scandal, outbreaks of police brutality, & now the Chris Milam stadium controversy. Yet with all that being said, the city is still considered the best run in the state as it piles up prestigious awards, avoids the kind of ugly labor conflicts that have plagued both Clark County & the other major cities in the valley, opens new parks just as the above mentioned cities have threatened to close parks, and pursues new economic development opportunities. It hasn't always been easy for Henderson, yet the city has managed to avoid disaster.

And with this big picture behind him, Andy Hafen runs for reelection as Henderson Mayor. Believe it or not, he answered questions from residents for over two hours last night. He certainly had plenty to talk about. And he's hoping more residents see the opportunity and progress that he sees in that big picture.

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