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City, court extend personnel agreement

One could be excused for assuming that an item on the city council’s agenda for the June 25 meeting was somehow related to the concept of free speech if one had only read the agenda and none of the attachments. It was, after all, referred to as First Amendment.

It turns out that it’s not about that First Amendment. But understanding it does mean taking a look at some history.

“First” is just a reference to the first time that an existing agreement between the city and its own municipal court is being amended. Who, one might ask, does the city have a fairly lengthy contract agreement with its own court? A court that the council appoints the judge to? Here is where the history part comes in.

Back in the depths of the 2008-2014 financial meltdown, the city of Sparks in northern Nevada told the municipal court to cut the salaries of some court employees. Traditionally, the city had made all personnel decisions for the court. The municipal court disputed the city’s ability to require it to reduce the salaries of municipal court employees who were exempt from the city charter provisions and civil service rules that govern city employees. So, the court sued the city.

The case made its way the the Nevada Supreme Court and on May 30, 2013, the court issued a decision known as Sparks v. Sparks, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 38 holding that municipal courts are co-equal branches of government with authority to manage their own affairs without interference from other separate co-equal government branches.

This upset the proverbial apple cart in many, if not most, jurisdictions, including in Boulder City where, again, traditionally, the city had made all personnel decisions for the court.

The ruling did not say that the city could not act in that fashion. It did say that, in order to do so, there had to be a contract agreement in place. Without an agreement, the separation of powers doctrine would not allow the city to have any authority over municipal court personnel.

So, in late 2014, the city and the court (represented by the municipal court judge who is also appointed by the city council) entered into an agreement to delineate the administrative responsibilities of each entity when it comes to personnel and human resource issues.

The current agreement expired on July 1. The resolution actually amended the agreement (hence the whole “first amendment” thing) to extend it by an additional six months so that in runs through the remainder of 2024.

According to city staff, many other jurisdictions in Nevada are in the process of updating their agreements with their own municipal courts.

“Additionally, the city’s collective bargaining agreements were also recently finalized,” read the staff report. “City and court staff would like more time to work on a more long-term extension of the current agreement comparing ours with other similar agreements in Nevada to make sure it contains all pertinent terms and conditions. This amendment would extend the current agreement six months to allow staff this time to work on a more long-term amended restated agreement.”

Unrelated but still of note, assuming a new agreement is signed before early January of 2025, signing that agreement may just end up being one of the final official acts taken by Judge Victor Miller, who will be retiring. Miller has also served as justice of the peace for the Boulder Township of Clark County for well more than 40 years and decided not to run for re-election this year. Christopher Tilman was elected to that position in the recent primary election and will take over in January.

While the office of judge and justice have been occupied, with only a few years of exception, by the same person for about 75 years, there is no guarantee that the council will continue that tradition.

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