LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Pamela Goynes-Brown became Nevada’s first Black mayor in November, winning the North Las Vegas mayor’s race.
She beat Pat Spearman, who is breaking ground herself as the first woman in her leadership role in the Nevada Senate. She is president pro tempore — second in command to Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. They are the first women to lead the senate. Spearman is also the first openly lesbian member of the Nevada Legislature, and has worked to protect civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Goynes-Brown and Spearman are two of the most powerful Black women in the state. And even though Goynes-Brown carried the day in November, the battle isn’t over. That’s because Spearman is sponsoring legislation that would require North Las Vegas to add two additional city council seats, set residency requirements for some appointed officials and measure the city’s efforts to hire women and minorities.
Senate Bill 184 (SB184) is an effort to modernize the government of a 53-year-old city that still has only four council seats despite its growth to status as the third-largest city in the state. But Goynes-Brown made it clear at a Monday hearing in Carson City: she wants all available money to go toward city projects — not on “more politicians.”
The tension over Spearman’s efforts was obvious during the Senate hearing for the bill, prompting the committee chairman Edgar Flores to caution all speakers against personal attacks.
In presenting the bill, Spearman and SB184 supporters were critical of the handling of a city charter committee, depicting a process that sidelined a group the Legislature expected to get the ball rolling on efforts.
Spearman and Goynes-Brown occupy the same turf. Goynes-Brown came up through the Ward 2 council seat and played a leading role in bringing in businesses that are bringing jobs and tax revenue. Spearman’s Senate district covers most of North Las Vegas north of Craig Road.
The success of the legislation may come down to whether lawmakers want to use state authority to command changes to a local government. Rural lawmakers from Eureka and Washoe counties indicated their concerns over that during questions on Monday.
The city has had four council seats since it was born in 1970. The population then was about 36,000 residents. That has grown to around 275,000 according to U.S. Census figures. Spearman says her bill isn’t about politics.
“This really is a matter of democracy,” she said.
And she is sensitive over suggestions that it’s designed to set up a political path she might follow.
“I would like to start by clearing up an egregious rumor insinuating that I’m doing this for personal reasons to run for one of the new council seats,” Spearman said. “Let me be clear. I have absolutely no interest in running, walking, standing, sleeping or any other activity that includes accepting a seat on the North Las Vegas City Council. The rumor is not just false. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.”
Residents lined up to offer support for the bill. Several had strong opinions on not requiring the city manager to live in the city. Others said it’s impossible for four council members to fairly represent the large population. Tyrone Jones and Timothy C. Smith said the city has lied about limits placed on the charter committee.
Goynes-Brown and North Las Vegas Government Affairs Manager Leonard Benavides were in attendance to offer opposition — an awkward situation with each limited to two minutes to state their cases.
Goynes Brown let loose with a rushed response that appears below:
“I join all our employees and many of our stakeholders in strong opposition to SB184. Senator Krasner, the last time I was before this committee, you graciously congratulated me on being the first African American mayor elected to our state’s history. I want to thank you again for those kind words and I now ask you to trust me to run the city that I was elected to run. I grew up in the historic westside, a segregated section of Las Vegas where African Americans were once forced to live. Today that community is dramatically different than when I was a little girl. It is still diverse but the Black community has been joined by other communities of color, adding rich racial and ethnic diversity.
“As you all well know, when we campaign for office we run on ideas. In the race for mayor, I was joined by six other candidates including one of the bill sponsors. As you can imagine, any campaign with our good friend Senator Spearman is going to be an engaging exercise full of ideas and policy suggestions. To my knowledge and that some of the other former candidates the only idea in SB184 actually discussed with voters during my public forum was a diverse audit of city employees. None of the ideas were presented to the public, not out in campaign mailers, website, stump speeches … they were simply never discussed with our residents. As we presented to this committee earlier this month, through the unbelieveably hard work our city is finally coming out of state fiscal receivership and a massive fiscal crisis. Finding the money to cover the cost of this bill would impact our community. We will be forced to cut new projects just announced such as newly announced Delores Huerta Resource Center to provide much-needed resources for our members of immigrant communities or our recent plan to invest money in all our mature parks south of Craig Road. For those unfamiliar with our city all the parks are located in our our two most diverse council wards containing the largest percentage of minority populations.
“We are finally at a financial point where we are able to start programs for some of our most vulnerable communities and it would be services and programs designed to help that we would have to cut funding for the recurring costs of this bill. I’m sorry, but our community needs these resources more than it needs to pay for more politicians. Voters in Southern Nevada just elected three new mayors during this last election yet this bill singles out only our city and allows other mayors to start running their city at local level without proposing significant and surprise changes to their charters.”
At that point, Flores cut off her time to allow others to make remarks.
Benavides provided this statement:
“Although we appreciate the bill’s effort to increase diversity, equity and inclusion the City of North Las Vegas prides itself on ensuring that our employee makeup is reflective of the constituents we serve. The city opposes SB184 for several reasons. First, the North Las Vegas City Council, the North Las Vegas Charter Committee, and the public have not had the opportunity to weigh in on the bill in its current form. Moreover, this bill would require the city to reallocate nearly $1.4 million in funding away from much-needed programs and resident services this year and nearly $1 million annually in perpetuity. Additionally, SB184 limits employment opportunities and talent acquisition to continue the tremendous success and momentum the City has enjoyed under the current leadership team.”
Pressure from Spearman on North Las Vegas leaders to take up issues cited in SB184 will likely continue through the city charter committee whether the bill passes or not.