Pamela Goynes Brown smiles after being sworn in as North Las Vegas mayor. (Photo courtesy of North Las Vegas)
In 2011, Pamela Goynes-Brown became the first Black woman elected to the North Las Vegas City Council, following in the footsteps of her father, Theron Goynes, who in 1981 became the first Black man elected to the public body.
Goynes-Brown broke through another glass ceiling this month: becoming the city’s first Black mayor.
With her hand perched on a bible held by her father, Goynes-Brown took her oath of office at North Las Vegas City Hall on Dec. 7. North Las Vegas Municipal Judge Courtney Ketter, a Black trailblazer in his own right, administered the oath.
Afterward, the newly appointed mayor promised the crowd she wasn’t going to cry, then did anyway.
“This is the cheap mascara,” she joked to the room. “We’re not going to do this.”
Goynes-Brown cruised to an easy victory last month, securing 65.7% of the vote against Democratic state Sen. Pat Spearman. Mayors are non-partisan positions with four-year terms.
The significance of the historic win has taken a while to feel real, Goynes-Brown told the Current.
In many ways, she explained, the transition to mayor feels like a continuation of work she has been doing on the council for more than a decade. Her win didn’t hinge upon her being a woman of color – her opponent was one also – but from voters in the community knowing who she is as a person and leader.
“Yes, female. Yes, African American. But more so ‘I trust her to lead this city.’”
But Goynes-Brown recognizes that it may prove aspirational to young people of color.
“It’s still surreal,” she added, “but I am so honored and humbled to be in this position.”
Goynes-Brown’s mayoral term runs through November 2026, at which point she will be unable to run again due to the state’s term-limit law, which restricts elected officials to serving 12 years on the same public body.
Goynes-Brown will reach that 12-year mark about six months into her term, but contends that state law allows her to finish the term out.
She says she’s happy to serve just one term.
“That’s all I need,” she said. “Given my years on council already, I have left a great legacy.”
Goynes-Brown succeeds Mayor John Lee, who she described as “a great leader, a great teacher, a great mentor.” She says Lee, who oversaw North Las Vegas as it came out of near bankruptcy following the Great Recession, wrote “chapter one” and she is moving the city into “chapter two.”
That chapter two involves expanding its light manufacturing and warehouse industries, building up medical services around the existing VA hospital, and developing infrastructure needs of its Apex industrial park.
Goynes-Brown added that there’s also an effort to revitalize downtown.
“I know people are like, ‘Does North Las Vegas even have a downtown?’ and yeah we do,” she said. “It’s not clearly defined but we’re going to change that.”
North Las Vegas is Nevada’s fourth largest incorporated city – behind Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno. As of the 2020 Census, North Las Vegas recorded a population of 262,527 – around 1,600 fewer residents than Reno. More recent Census estimates from 2021 show North Las Vegas has already surpassed Reno.
Between 2010 and 2020, North Las Vegas’ population grew by 21%. For comparison, the “biggest little city” grew its population by 17.3% over that time span, and the statewide population by 15%.
North Las Vegas is also Nevada’s largest minority-majority city: 42% of residents identify as “white alone,” 42% as Hispanic or Latino, 22% as Black, and 6.7% as Asian.
“We celebrate the diverse community out here,” said Goynes-Brown. “We have something to offer everyone – every ethnicity, every diverse group. Every person feels welcome and feels they are valued.”
Housing has become a key issue within North Las Vegas, especially as rent prices began spiking during the pandemic.
The Culinary Union earlier this year drafted a proposed ordinance that would cap year-to-year rent increases in North Las Vegas at 5%. They attempted to qualify the proposal as a citywide ballot initiative on the 2022 general election ballot but were stymied by City Clerk Jackie Rodgers, who determined the petition was invalid because not enough signatures were collected and because the language on the proposed ordinance differed from the petition signed by residents.
On Aug. 3, the City Council voted 4-1 to uphold the clerk’s decision.
Goynes-Brown said that vote was about whether the clerk did her legal job – “she absolutely did” – and not necessarily indicative of the council’s opinion on rent stabilization as policy.
Culinary Union leaders disagreed with the dismissal of their petition but acknowledged there wasn’t enough time for a legal challenge to be settled before the deadline for printing election materials. They have vowed to bring up the issue elsewhere – likely at the county or state level.
Goynes-Brown believes that’s where the issue belongs.
“I am a supporter of rent stabilization,” she told the Current, “but it has to be regional. We can’t tailor it to North Las Vegas. There are so many unanswered questions that have to be answered. It has to work for the entire region.”
Goynes-Brown before the June primary said she “didn’t have a problem” with enacting rent stabilization measures if the state legislature were to allow it. Some Nevada municipalities have argued they do not have the authority to enact housing policies such as rent control or exclusionary zoning, though others believe the opposite is true and municipalities already have such authority.
For now, however, Goynes-Brown says the city’s role in housing primarily focuses on doing “due diligence” when looking at residential developers. The City Council should be looking at developer’s histories and their price points to determine whether they should be approved, she added.
“We are expanding the housing residential market with so many different housing types,” she said. “Whether you’re looking to rent, multi-family apartments, townhomes, senior communities – we have some housing communities that are all rental communities – whatever people want, you can find it here in North Las Vegas.”
Goynes-Brown, who retired after more than three decades at the Clark County School District as an administrator and educator, said it was too soon to take a position on a proposal to allow incorporated cities to withdraw from the county school district and form their own city-based district. That effort, known as the Community Schools Initiative, is currently awaiting signature validation by counties before moving to the Nevada State Legislature or 2024 voters for approval.
“We have to have those frank discussions,” she said of the concept of breaking up the nation’s fifth largest school district. “I’m certainly open to having those discussions. Once questions are answered that are satisfactory for me and management, we can make a true decision.”
Goynes-Brown has previously supported expanding educational options for students.
During the peak of pandemic school closures, the councilwoman championed the creation of a North Las Vegas-funded facilitated homeschool program called the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy, or SNUMA.
“One thing we did learn out of SNUMA is there is a need,” she said. “Parents are looking for options. Of course, (SNUMA) came as a result of covid, but parents are always looking for what’s innovative and the best direction for my kid.”
Goynes-Brown noted her excitement about CCSD opening a career and technical academy in North Las Vegas in 2023, as well as the expansion of charter schools in the city.
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