January 15, 2017 - 12:22 pm
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen was clearly impressed with the 16 candidates who came before the City Council last week during a special session to fill the vacant Ward 4 seat.
All had three minutes to make their case. Among the applicants were business owners, an educator, a former city manager, a U.S. Army veteran, an attorney and a former Nevada assemblyman. One gave a PowerPoint presentation. Passionate voices were heard as ideas were discussed on how to better the city.
“After hearing everyone’s qualifications, I don’t know if I should even be up here,” Hafen quipped.
Hafen’s remark suggested that council members were faced with a difficult decision in choosing the right person to complete Councilman Sam Bateman’s term, which ends in June 2019. But when it came time for Hafen and three other council members to write down their two finalists, only one name appeared on everyone’s list.
None of the applicants possessed the business and personal connections that Stewart had with council members. In Hafen’s case, it was a family tie. Stewart is the uncle of Hafen’s son-in-law.
“In all fairness, I knew him 20 years before my daughter and his nephew married each other,” Hafen said. “For me it doesn’t present any kind of conflict. Quite frankly, he’s probably been involved in every one of our campaigns. I remember him and his wife and kids showing up to some of my campaign parties.
“Out of all of the candidates that applied, he’s probably the one I’m the most familiar with.”
Stewart will be sworn into office at a special City Council meeting on Tuesday. His salary will be $49,673 annually, according to the proposed contract.
“I’m a very introverted guy,” Stewart said. “I’m so fortunate to be selected and receive this vote. I’m committed to do the job, and that’s what I will promise you. Knowing so many of you and knowing so many of your predecessors, I know what it takes to get this job done.”
Stewart also has ties with Councilwoman Debra March and Councilman John Marz.
Stewart is listed as part of the committee to elect March for mayor on her website, debramarch.com. He’s also a member of the Urban Land Institute, a national nonprofit that promotes sustainable land use. State records show that March contributed $2,500 in 2015 to the nonprofit.
State records show that Valley Construction Co., which Stewart owns, contributed $250 to Marz in 2013.
Several letters of support for Stewart came from people at companies that have made numerous donations to the campaigns of Hafen, March, Marz and Councilwoman Gerri Schroder, including former Henderson mayor and Western Elite president James B. Gibson, American Nevada Company LLC president Phil Ralston and R&S Investment Properties and R&S Leasing owner Bob Ellis.
“Dan has just served in so many capacities and has so much knowledge in what is happening in the city of Henderson,” March said during the special meeting. “That’s why he’s on every one of our lists.”
Stewart serves on the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and previously served on the Nevada State Commission on Ethics. He served as a former planning commissioner and vice chairman of the Henderson Planning Commission from 2012 to 2015. And he serves as the board chairman of the Nevada State College Foundation, where Hafen is also listed as a member.
“No laws were violated with the appointment itself, but … there’s going to have to be more public disclosure when issues arise in the council that may involve either the mayor or council’s family members,” said Tod Story, executive director of the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union.
Prior to Stewart’s presentation, Hafen disclosed that Stewart is his son-in-law’s uncle and that he had known him for 20-plus years prior to that.
Stewart didn’t violate any Henderson code when he said on his application that he doesn’t have any relatives employed by the city.
The city ethics code definition of “family members” includes anyone living in the same home or dwelling, including the spouse or domestic partner of the public servant or who is related to the public servant by blood, adoption, marriage or domestic partnership within the “third degree of consanguinity or affinity.” A son-in-law’s uncle does not fall within that definition.
City regulations also did not require any council members to disqualify themselves from voting on a replacement for Bateman, who resigned after being elected to Henderson Justice Court.
According to the Henderson Municipal Code, “if an elected official has received a campaign contribution by a person or entity that has a matter before the city council the elected official is not required to make a public disclosure of that contribution if it has been reported, or will be reported by the next reporting deadline, pursuant to NRS Chapter 294.”
Furthermore, the code states, “a campaign contribution received by an elected official does not create a conflict of interest under this chapter that would require the elected official to be disqualified from voting or taking action on a matter.”
Regardless, Stewart’s close ties to the mayor may be seen by some as an appearance of favoritism.
“Part of the problem, which frankly cannot be solved, is that people who usually wind up in these positions already are known,” said Michael Green, associate professor of history at UNLV. “They’ve served on boards or had business dealings, and getting around that is difficult. This area is a bunch of small towns that grew very fast. There is still very much a small-town approach in politics, which is the kind of interconnectedness that this situation represents.”
Stewart was likely more of a known quantity to the council, “which probably benefited him,” Green said. “Not that the others didn’t have impressive records, or even personal connections, but the combination clearly would help him.”
Stewart and Clark County Planning Commission Chair Dan Shaw were managers at Horizon Henderson LLC and Sunset Springs LLC from 2004 to 2006.
Additionally, Stewart was a manager at Horsemen’s Investment Company LLC from 2004 to 2006 and coincidentally shared the same suite and address with Marz’s marketing consulting firm, Marz and Co.
Hafen also disclosed that he had professional or personal ties with five other applicants. He is familiar with applicant Derek Uehara, who challenged Bateman in 2015 and received more than 42 percent of the vote. Yet Uehara was not one of the five finalists.
At a Dec. 6 council meeting, Hafen said the appointment process was the “transparent and cost-effective” solution, but others have been critical of the decision not to call an election to fill Bateman’s council seat.
“There are some really great people on the council,” said Rick Workman, who is running for mayor. “I just don’t like the way they try to govern this sort of thing. This should’ve been an opportunity for the public to decide who will represent them for another two years.”
Contact Sandy Lopez at email@example.com or 702-383-4686. Follow @JournalismSandy on Twitter.