Does the world really need a Las Vegas City Council?

October 16, 2019 7:17 am

To recap: The famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is not in Las Vegas. Your Las Vegas Golden Knights do not play in Las Vegas, and nor will Mark Davis’s Las Vegas Raiders. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is not in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Strip is not in Las Vegas.

And while Southern Nevada has more than 2.2 million people scrambling and struggling but striving and sometimes thriving, less than a third of them, 645,000, live within the official boundaries of the City of Las Vegas.

Well, so what?



I confess I don’t know nor particularly care why (presumably something to do with business influence and a railroad stop; the usual culprits), but back in the oldey timey days before there was air conditioning, TV, and radicalization weekends at Donald Trump’s Doral resort, the city of Las Vegas formed a government. Because the state said it could.

A century (more or less) later, that government is making a pretty strong case for the state to revoke the charter.

— At the urging of Mayor Carolyn Goodman, the Las Vegas City Council is scheduled to consider a measure to criminalize homelessness by slapping fines of up to $1,000 on people who are homeless in part because they don’t have $1,000, and jailing them too, for sleeping on sidewalks in places where nice businesses are.

— The council today is scheduled to consider a measure to allow violent men convicted of domestic violence to keep their beloved guns, even though state law says “Hey dumb city of Las Vegas you can’t do that” or words to that effect. City officials are confident they can oh so cleverly circumvent state law by charging the violent men with something nicer than domestic violence. Why is the city even doing this stupid thing? Because city officials feel very strongly that running a proper court system like a grown-up government is just too hard.

— The aforementioned Mayor Goodman, of the Las Vegas Goodmans, has dusted off an old idea favored by her predecessor, who also happens to be her husband. I know! Is that a coincidence or what? Anyway, Madam Mayor wants to move mentally ill homeless people to Jean, which is a truckstop with a Zip code 30 miles south of the metro area. The state has a jail there, but Goodman envisions repurposing the structures, which would result in either:

A) A competently staffed and administered facility to help, treat and serve homeless people suffering from mental health illnesses with dignity, compassion and respect, or…

B) An underfunded understaffed hellhole, its sole purpose to stash people in dismal shacks off a distant I-15 exit, where they will be cut off from everything but at least will no longer be in any danger of discomforting hipster restaurateurs and bougie marketing, sales and business professionals.

Which is the more likely scenario? Perhaps our best indication is Nevada state and local governments’ track record of, and commitment to, addressing both chronic homelessness and mental health. So yeah, B.

People with expertise and experience in each of these respective subject areas have met the city’s proposals with a collective “seriously, wtf?” Almost nobody outside the city’s intellectual blockade (no good policy gets in or out) is on the city’s side.

The ordinance to criminalize homelessness, in particular, has been unloaded on by state legislators, county officials, columnists (fine you hate columnists but still), and of course the groups who work most closely with, and know most about, homelessness. The only people who think this is a remotely good idea are business owners (because of course) and people who are paid by the City of Las Vegas to pretend Goodman and the city council know what they’re doing. 

It would be nice to think that some nefarious villain has infiltrated city government as part of an elaborate alt-right chat-room challenge to see who can trick a fairly large American city into forging and enacting the most colorful trifecta of counterproductive policy atrocities deliberately designed to exacerbate the conditions they purportedly seek to improve. At least then there would be a rationale for the proposals.

But no. It mostly just looks like fecklessness and inertia. The City of Las Vegas, bless its heart, has suffered a council and bureaucracy in thrall to Goodmanism and its late 20th century brand of business-first pompom waving since, well, the late 20th century. There are smart, dedicated people of expertise and accomplishment working for the city. Council members obviously never listen to any of them, instead kowtowing to the performance art and policy bankruptcy that is The Goodman Show.

So maybe just dissolve it. Las Vegas city government. Expand the city limits to encompass the unincorporated county (the UC, as I call it, but I’m the only one so never mind), so even the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign would be in Las Vegas. Put it all, including what is currently officially the City of Las Vegas, under the governance of the county commission, same as the UC (home of 1 million people, btw).

Consolidation of one sort or another has been argued about ’round here for years, never going anywhere because turf wars, and because special interests like to have an extra malleable government to muscle around. The Las Vegas City Council is making a forceful case for rekindling the consolidation argument. The county could assume and perform all the same duties residents rely on, but without the crazytown flavor-spike.

Clark County is not some enlightened bastion of responsive governance where the public good always takes precedent over special interest influence. If there is a place where such a government exists, it assuredly isn’t in Nevada.

But the Las Vegas City Council is a full-on farce.

Maybe when the city’s elections move to even-numbered years with the grown-up elections in 2022, and more than 11 people vote in municipal elections, things will change. Maybe the City of Las Vegas — both its bureaucracy and its governance — will emulate its people, and outgrow the Goodmans.

But why risk it when all available evidence indicates the world would be a better place without a Las Vegas City Council?

And oh yes by the way Henderson and North Las Vegas are governed by train wrecks of small-town favoritism, cronyism, and malign neglect. But they’re small potatoes compared to Las Vegas.

Besides, they don’t even have a famous sign named for (but not located in) their cities.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.