LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Transparency was the topic of debate for City of Henderson council members Tuesday, an issue that drew questions from elected officials about intent, ethics, and accessibility to the public.
Over 25 meetings were held with City of Henderson staff determining the goals and verbiage of the policy, Exceptional Governance – Policy & Protocols, according to the City of Henderson.
A policy that maps out guidance for elected officials and their staff on how to communicate with the public and media members. Critics say it makes communication from council members more difficult and stifles the flow of information to the voting public.
“We decided it was necessary to develop a policy and protocols to formalize and standardize how we work together as a council and with staff,” Henderson Mayor Michelle Romero said. “This effort will also set an example for all staff as we strive for exceptional government in a premier organization.”
Henderson City Councilmembers Stewart, Shaw, and Seebock all provided statements in the affirmation of the policy, Councilwoman Cox gave the sole opposition statement of the policy.
“We are effectively telling the very people who elected us that we are not accessible to them to discuss their concerns,” Cox said. “This policy infringes the First Amendment rights of individual council members and suggests that they can be subject to reprimand for stating an opinion not shared by the majority of the council.”
What the policy says
The policy outlines that if members of the public “complain” directly to their elected representative, the same representative is mandated to, “Direct all complaints or problems promptly to the Chief of Staff, who will be accountable for response, engagement of appropriate staff, and communicating with the customer until the matter is addressed.”
“If I got a problem I want to call and I want to be able to speak to my city council person,” said Henderson resident Jeff Crampton who spoke to 8 News Now and who opposes the policy. “It appears to me that they are attempting to curb the behaviors of the city council people and how they interact with the residents.”
Encounters with the media are also outlined for council members in another section of the policy affirming, “Any contact in which Council members are asked to express in any media the position of the City will be done in consultation with the communications department.”
A list of steps for accountability for not following the policy is described with cascading consequences listing as the least desirable step filing, “a formal complaint or pursue any other legal rights or remedies.”
Councilwoman Cox vehemently disagreed with the two protocols within the policy impacting speech with members of the public and media, the policy mandating that an appointed staff member be the lead for communication with the public on issues, not elected officials.
“As an elected official I cannot support a policy that bars me from communicating with the same constituent until such time that the non-elected staff member deems it appropriate,” Cox said.
Mayor Romero disagreed with Councilwoman Cox several times during the meeting, repeatedly making her view of the policy clear.
“In no way shape or form is this meant to stifle communication with our residents, in fact, it is to make sure we have all sides of an issue that is being put before us rather than one side or another,” Romero said.
Henderson City Attorney Nicholas Vaskov characterized the debate as primarily philosophical.
“I think sometimes we get caught up in nomenclature,” Vaskov said.
The sole public comment
Council chambers recorded nearly 45 minutes of debate specifically about the policy until only one public commenter rose to speak to the council members, Jeff Crampton.
“I want to talk to you if that’s who I voted for,” Crampton said pointing at the councilmembers. “I want an answer from you, I want you to be accountable to me.
Crampton asked the members of the council why there was not a bid for who assisted with the policy process, asking how Punam Mathur was selected. Mayor Romero referred Crampton’s question to city staff.
“Punam was actually a continuation of the strategic plan, so as she helped [council members] also with the strategic plan it made a lot of sense that since she had already developed a lot of relationships with [council members] and with her expertise that why she was chosen,” Henderson City Manager/CEO Richard Derrick responded.
“So, it was one person,” Crampton said. “That we decided we had this relationship with, and that’s who got selected to do it?”
Once Crampton finished his public comment the City of Henderson councilmembers accepted a motion for a vote on the agenda item. It passed 4 to 1 with Councilwoman Cox as the sole vote in opposition.