Got despotism?

Geoffrey Lawrence

The City of Las Vegas’ redevelopment plan is being challenged by Culinary Local 226 in the upcoming June election.  Culinary has secured enough signatures to place two initiatives on the ballot that would (1) require voter approval for individual lease-purchase agreements and (2) repeal the city’s current redevelopment plan.


The City has proposed to issue general obligation bonds to finance, among other things, a new $267 million city hall.  The project would burden local taxpayers with a significant amount of debt at a time when they can least afford it.


In response to Culinary’s actions, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has audaciously declared, “The public should know, no matter what happens with the referendum, we're going to go ahead with these projects.”  In essence, Goodman is saying that ‘democracy is not valid here’ and that he will force city residents to build him a new palace whether they like it or not. Goodman contends that the taxpayer-funded development projects he has envisioned cannot be stopped because the city has entered into binding agreements on those projects that it must honor. 


However, his contention is undermined by the fact that he freely admits that the contract for the new city hall “may not be specifically in writing, but these people are proceeding as though there is a contractual agreement with the city.”  Hence, there is no contract. 


In typical fashion, city officials are hiding behind the state’s redevelopment laws to protect acts that in principle constitute tyranny and despotism.  Normally, when the City Council issues large amounts of debt through a general obligation bond, the public has the right to vote on it.  When it does so under the guise of a redevelopment agency, however, democracy is suspended and Council members are allowed to impose new debt onto taxpayers in order to fund whatever pet project they desire. 


Often, city officials can use a redevelopment agency to funnel taxpayer money directly to their privileged developer friends as an “incentive” (wink-wink) to undertake the project.  In essence, redevelopment agencies are a tool used to tax private families in order to enrich the feudal lords. 


Despotism is a way of life once a city forms a redevelopment agency in Nevada.  The actions of Mayor Goodman and his cohorts on the City Council are prima facie evidence of this fact.   


Reform of Nevada’s redevelopment laws is now long overdue.  The state legislature can no longer regard these abuses with ambivalence.  Nevadans deserve protection from their local officials’ despotic behavior.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.