Forum brings together lawmakers, local government officials to prioritize legislative issues

Published Thu, Jan 10, 2013 (4:40 p.m.)

Updated Fri, Jan 11, 2013 (10:01 a.m.)

More than 100 state and local government leaders took part in a Thursday morning gathering at UNLV to help set the stage for a more unified voice from Southern Nevada when the 2013 Legislature opens next month.

Many of the topics on the agenda at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum — including infrastructure, education and health care — have been discussed for years. Thursday’s gathering gave leaders a chance to prioritize issues in hopes of fostering cooperation between the different regional governments during the legislative session, said Assembly Speaker-elect Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who helped facilitate the event.

“We really all want the same thing … but how can we help each other get there? That’s the crux of why we’re here today,” Kirkpatrick said. “We all want to build a better Nevada. In my mind, the way we do that is starting in Southern Nevada.”

Thursday’s event drew about 120 people, including staff and elected officials from Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Clark County and Mesquite.

A gathering of so many elected officials from different municipalities in one location was largely unprecedented, Kirkpatrick said, and required some maneuvering to comply with state open meeting laws. Each of the municipalities represented declared a public meeting during the forum while staff took minutes and recorded the discussions.

The morning started with presentations by Brookings Mountain West director Rob Lang and Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council executive director Tom Skancke.

Lang detailed how the state’s outdated governance structure in many areas limited the opportunities for Southern Nevada to grow dynamically.

“This is nobody’s fault. This is just that we’re inheriting a legacy from folks who did not take on the challenge of adapting government to a larger scale that was part of the rapid growth process in this state,” he said.

He outlined a range of issues that need addressing at the state level, including finding new education funding formulas, restructuring the community college system, funding an on-campus stadium at UNLV and dealing with the effects of the federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

“The most relevant piece of infrastructure that’s on tap this spring in the Legislature is the mega events center (at UNLV),” said Lang, a UNLV employee. “There’s an opportunity for us to add to the assets that we have — a great airport, a wonderful convention center, the scale of our hotels, the food and beverage … all of that dovetails with the completion of this critical tourist infrastructure.”

After the presentations, the attendees broke off into small groups and began brainstorming sessions around one of six assigned topics.

The results of their hourlong sessions were shared with the rest of the group before a panel discussion among legislators closed out the morning.

Henderson City Councilwoman Debra March said although many of the attendees at Thursday’s forums have knonw each other from working together on various interlocal commissions and boards, they often haven’t gotten the chance to have big picture discussions in an informal setting.

“When we’re dealing with issues that have to do with our legislature going forward, how they’re going to handle and respond to the needs of Southern Nevada, sometimes it’s a little bit different conversation than what might occur than at the Water Authority or the Regional Transportation Commission,” March said. “This is a great opportunity to have that conversation … sometimes we can’t have those conversations because of open meeting laws.”

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